RWC23: Scotland v Georgia: second half surge sees hosts home

Townsend's team score five tries after the break to secure winning momentum ahead of flying out to World Cup

Rory Darge carries the ball for Scotland versus Georgia. Image: © Craig Watson -
Rory Darge carries the ball for Scotland versus Georgia. Image: © Craig Watson -

Scotland 33

Georgia 6

DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield

THE Scotland squad did a lap of the pitch after the final whistle so that the crowd of 50-odd thousand for this final warm-up match before the World Cup could bid them a bon voyage to France. It would have been a pretty awkward PR exercise if they had carried on during the second half in the same haphazard style of the first 40 minutes.

Fortunately, after trailing 6-0 at the break, they did tighten up to take a strangle-hold of the contest, scoring 33 unanswered points to secure a five tries to zero win – not to be sniffed at – with Duhan van der Merwe‘s brace bookending scores from Rory Darge, Jack Dempsey and Kyle Steyn.

It was not the polished all-round performance they were looking for, but the Scotland squad will recognise that the days when victories over Georgia are formality and, importantly, there appears to be no new injury concerns ahead of the team flying out to France next Sunday, ahead of their World Cup opener against South Africa in Marseilles seven days later.

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The visitors took the lead through a Luka Matkava penalty, awarded against Grant Gilchrist for not rolling away on 11 minutes, and Georgia may count themselves unfortunate not to have claimed the openin try on 17 minutes when they ran back an Ollie Smith clearance with impressive intent and it took some desperate scrambling work from Smith to retrieve Demur Tapladze’s clever grubber in the Scottish in-goal area just ahead of Miriani Modebadze.

The Eastern Europeans had to settle instead for a second Matkava penalty – this time after an offside – with the game 20 minutes old.

Apart from a couple of powerful but well marshalled bursts from van der Merwe and Kyle Steyn, the Scots didn’t get close to challenging the Georgian defence, with their desire to use the width of the park undermined by some laboured passing. One telegraphed delivery from Finn Russell to WP Nel resulted in the Scottish tight-head being ignominiously being dumped on his backside after being caught man-and-ball by Matkava.

When Scotland finally managed to make it into the Georgian 22 just before the half hour mark, they huffed and puffed but made little meaningful headway, before Russell lost possession as he tried to unleash a miracle offload out of contact.

The Scotland stand-off was not the only culprit when it came to coughing up possession in contact, with Ben White losing his grasp of possession a few minutes later and Dempsey having already been penalised for holding on too long on the deck in the 10th minute.

The home side were beginning to command more possession, however, and they thought they had secured a nerve-settling first try when Russell sent a penalty to the corner, the line-out maul went nowhere, but Huw Jones made a useful dent in midfield, and a flat pass from Russell gave Steyn a sniff in the corner – but the winger, who was a late call-up in place of Darcy Graham, lost control as he stretched for the corner under pressure from opposite number Modebadze.

Skipper Jamie Ritchie being penalised for holding on after another mildly promising but ultimately toothless attack seemed like a suitably frustrating way to finish the first half.

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Scotland flew out the blocks after the break and it took a last-gasp interception by Aka Tabutsadze of a Jones pass to van der Merwe to prevent what looked like a certain try on the left.

A few minutes later, the Georgian winger thought he was off on an 80-yard sprint to the line after intercepting Russell, but French referee Mathieu Raynal pulled him back for a scrum penalty which had been conceded by the visitors at the start of that attack.

Then, finally, it clicked for Scotland, with Russell angling an inch-perfect cross-kick towards van der Merwe on the left, who had a minor jungle before collecting and cantering home unchallenged for his 19th try in 31 matches.

The big South African thought he’d claimed try number 20 just two minutes later when he cruised through Georgia’s tiring defence, but he was hauled down just short and couldn’t get the ball away, so Scotland had to wait two more phases before Darge muscled over from close range.

With Russell adding both conversions, the Scottish coaching team deemed their eight-point advantage sufficient cushion with 28 minutes to go for a bench clearance, meaning there was wholesale changes in the front-row and at half-back as well as Matt Fagerson coming on for Darge in the back-row – to a huge sigh of relief from the 50-odd thousand in the stadium and the many more watching at home, because none of that quintet, which included the irreplaceable Russell, appeared to be carrying any sort of injury.

The changes certainly didn’t impact Scotland’s new-found momentum, and Dempsey battled through three tackles and stretched over the line for try number three on 58 minutes.

Ritchie was left incensed when Tabutsadze pulled him down by the shoulders as he jumped to collect Ben Healy’s cross-kick and there was a bit of grappling, bumping of heads and a half-hearted swing of a fist. The Scottish captain came perilously close to getting embroiled in a stramash he didn’t need to be in this close to the World Cup but managed to extricate himself from the situation in time to be awarded the penalty. Tabutsadze should probably have seen yellow.

Scotland refocussed and kicked to the corner to create the platform for their fourth try scored by Kyle Steyn, before a long pass from Ben Healy sent van der Merwe over for his second.


Teams –

Scotland: O Smith; K Steyn, H Jones (C Harris 59), S Tuipulotu, D van der Merwe; F Russell (B Healy 52), B White ( G Horne 52); J Bhatti (R Sutherland, 52), D Cherry (E Ashman 52), W Nel (J Sebastian 52), S Skinner (S Cummings 59)_, G Gilchrist, J Ritchie , R Darge (M Fagerson 52), J Dempsey.

Georgia: D Niniashvili; A Tabutsadze, D Tapladze (T Jalaghonia 52), M Sharikadze, M Modebadze; L Matkava (G Kveseladze 67), V Lobzhanidze (T Abzhandadze 59); M Nariashvili (G Gogichashvili 52), S Mamukashvili (T Zamtaradze 38), B Gigashvili (G Papidze 56), L Chachanidze (S Mamamtavrishvili 52), K Mikautadze (L Jaiani 39), L Ivanishvili (G Aprasidze 74), M Gachechiladze, T Jalaghonia.

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France).


Scorers –

Scotland: Tries: van der Merwe 2, Darge, Demspey, Steyn; Cons: Russell 2, Healy 2.

Georgia: Pen: Matkava 2.

Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-3; 0-6 (h-t) 5-6; 7-6; 12-6; 14-6; 19-6; 21-6; 26-6; 28-6; 33-6.


Attendance: 54,212

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About David Barnes 4026 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. Anyone else fed up with the constant booing of place kickers? New low against a developing nation in Georgia. This is not a football match GO to Hampden feel quite strong about this must be my age ! Overall a decent second half performance.

  2. Still wonder if Jamie Ritchie is the right man for the captaincy. Fantastic player without question, but that red mist descending incident might have been more costly on another day with another ref – not what you want from your leader
    Think Finn is the better person with his more laid back nature – more engaging with referees.

    • Very good set piece performance. SA will be different but let’s not underestimate how good Zander is in the terms of world rugby. He improved so much last season in terms of his loose play and penalties given away. Yes stupid costly error a couple of weeks ago but we need him

      • Iain, the set piece was good. The one downside I would say though was that our attacking maul was disappointingly thwarted by the Georgian defence. Thinking back across the 4 games this summer its not been such a potent weapon and our hooker scoring rate has dropped. I’m not sure that this will be a big scoring area for us in the world cup and I hope we’ve been developing a few trick lineout plays to give us some options.

  3. The difference between Ben White and George Horne is becoming so obvious the preference for White is just weird. Horne is faster to the breakdown, has a zippier (and longer) service and just looks more confident. I wonder who Finn would choose?

  4. Very sound performance, there are no easy games these days. Set piece good against a much vaunted a Georgian team and kept up the pace in the second half to run away with it at the end.
    Wasn’t it amazing to see 50,000 plus at Murrayfield for a summer fixture against Georgia, well done to the supporters and hats off to the SRU for putting on another great show. Twickenham huge gaps, a country with 10 times our population.

    • The Kool Aid must taste different when ur in the S6 trough….rest of us can see what’s coming cos minus the mescaline….

    • Yes I thought Dodson had an excellent second half, varying the play, and keeping the point of contact moving.

  5. We don’t need to win both “big games”. Our best chance is beating Ireland and the “wee games”. It’s a big ask but we’ve got a chance.

    • We could beat Ireland, Ireland beat SA and SA beat us and we go out on points difference.

      • No matter which way you look at it, its a lousy draw. In this day and age of computers and such to organise the administration making the draw 3 years away is madness if they can’t organise in 18 months [or less] then there is something drastically wrong.

  6. I question what there is to gain from playing a team like Georgia at this stage of preparation.

    They’re not easy so can beat you if you don’t play with intensity (as they did Wales) but if you play with intensity you risk injuries….. and you don’t get any credit for beating them because it’s expected.

    I know the SH teams come into every rwc off the back of the championship, and that’s a huge advantage but why do we have to play these kind of games so close to the tournament?

    • Match fitness/sharpness.

      Having one month of no international quality rugby would be a huge disadvantage coming into the start of a tournament. It we had an easy game as an opener i could agree with you, but we need to be 100% to just have a chance of overcoming the boks

      • I know why we do it but why not start earlier e.g. in July and have a break so there’s less chance of players being taken out of the pool games by injuries with a 3-4 week recovery time?

  7. GT needs to do that HT team talk before the anthems. Thought back row were lacking again, whilst the front five have consistently fronted up at set piece. We seem to be scrummaging better without ZF which is a bit awkward.Samoa back row showed what can be done but not sure we have that physicality or nous at the breakdown. Really struggling to see Ritchie as a starter. Dempsey is only nailed on starter, perhaps MF too. White was pretty poor for me, passing, service were slow and erratic. Really not convinced he’s fully fit. Horne was a massive upgrade in tempo. Healy has an awesome boot but overall, try scoring pass to Duhan aside, he isn’t great at 10. Doesn’t help that he was coming on for Finn tbf. As someone else said he could make an excellent 15. Duhan was lethal going forward but like Harris needs to learn to look for support. Still horribly out of position defensively though which is a concern. Steyn still excels. Any other era he would be a no brainer starter. Worrying that in same way we were slow to see a hookerless Ireland throw to fron every time at 6n, we took 40 min to realise that you can’t score by just going to coast without someone breaking gain line first. Whatever criticism might be valid about us though, England are at their lowest ebb since mid 80s. Truly awful stuff. We have all moaned about the iniquity of the draw, but even with that they may not get out of their group. Still worry about our Tonga game. Don’t see us beating SA and with Berry reffing the Ireland game I can’t see that either. The Tonga game is a potential banana skin n we don’t want to suffer qualifiers for next RWC.

  8. Very poor first half where we aimlessly shipped the ball across the park without committing their defence. Also seemed very passive in defence allowing some of their backs to dance around without putting them under pressure. Clearly 2nd half was much better but still a lot of wide passes that didn’t always go to hand. I worry about this against the Boks where these wide passes will get picked off by their rush defence if Finn is not spot on with his choices.

    Having watched the Boks last night they look a fearsome unit totally dismantling the all blacks. Probably the part that worries me most is their defence which is absolutely ferocious and they really rush up in the backs putting the ball carriers under huge pressure. A real challenge for us to find a way through them – we certainly cant run over them so Finn will have to work his magic with a bit of variety with his attacking kicks but the wide passing will be risky. We will have to 100% accurate and keep the penalties down to have any chance but there is always a chance.

    • >rush up

      Is a compromise though, one where they’re at risk of a chip over the top, the kind of thing FR would look for.

      • I agree. We’ve struggled against rush defences for years. Our best way of keeping them honest is a Russell chip over the top. We’ve not shown that much in the recent games but I can see that making an early appearance against SA.

        I also think we need to be direct. There is a high risk of intercepts with their speed of rush defence off early phase and therefore we need to try and run through them not over them. Dempsey, Darge and Fagerson can all carry and step and when they get going they give us great momentum as we’ve seen in all our 2nd half comebacks. Just need to make sure we get quickly to the breakdown to support them.

  9. If I had a pound for every time someone has written a game of two half’s about Scotland this year. So I’ll resist the temptation and say the 1st half was containment the 2nd about winning. I thought even Harris had a decent game apart from not passing to Horne after his break. It’s also getting very tough to pick between Graham and Steyn at 14 , he had another good game.
    I watched the All Blacks South Africa game hoping SA would be badly beaten but alas they are coming to the boil just at the right time. To guarantee getting out of our pool we are going to have to win both the “big” games and get BP wins in the other 2 games. If we do not get out of the group, blame the draw that put the teams ranked 1,2 and 5 in the same pool, the guys will do their collective best I’m sure.

    • I wonder if I am the only person to not view this game as one of two halves? It was evident that Georgia found it more difficult to contain the constant pressure as the game wore on. The first half must have seemed disappointing to them when they were at full throttle but could only manage two penalties. There are different ways of winning games and I thought Scotland managed the game superbly; including pushing their much vaunted forwards back in scrums and mauls. Remember, Georgia beat both Italy and Wales last year and they’ve won the Rugby Europe Championship 12 times.

  10. It’s great fun to continually come from behind and win by scoring multiple tries, but if it takes 30 mins for us to get the South African 22 the game will already be over.
    On the positive side – Healy’s boot – jeez!
    Must be worth (after the WC) trying him at full-back just so he’s on the park anytime we get a penalty.

  11. A wins a win, efficient (2nd half) with the added bonus of no injuries, but geez Scotland are gonna have to play at 110% for 80 mins plus to over come the Springboks?
    Cannae match them with a power game so what’s the game plan, pull there forwards back and forth across the park, but there bench is more powerful than the starting XV?
    Who’d want to be a coach 🤔

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