DAVID BARNES @ Stade Pierre-Mauroy
FOCUS can now turn fully towards next Saturday’s date with destiny against Ireland in Paris, and Gregor Townsend’s squad will make that journey to the French capital – via a four-night stop-off back at their training camp in Valbonne near Nice – with a spring in their step, having swept past this final (minor) hurdle with minimum fuss and a fair bit of panache shown.
In the end, it was a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, but Scotland still had to get the job done, and the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any new injury concerns to any of the players likely to feature against Ireland will be a big relief.
Darcy Graham scored four tries to take his international total to 24, drawing level with Tony Stanger and Ian Smith in second place in Scotland’s all-time try scoring table, three behind current record holder Stuart Hogg. Another record also came into view towards the end of this match, but Scotland fell five tantalising points short of breaking their 28-year World Cup high score record (89-0 against Ivory Coast at the 1995 World Cup).
Scotland dominated from the start, but some inaccuracies early on – which included a scrappy line-out, a couple of forced passes which didn’t come off and a missed penalty to the corner – meant that they didn’t make it count on the scoreboard until the eighth minute.
When that opening score came, it was a beauty, with Cam Redpath showing strength and great footwork to bounce a tackle and turn stationary ball into an attacking opportunity. When the centre was finally closed down, his excellent offload out of contact found Hamish Watson, who rolled back the years as he scampered home.
Watson was, of course, one of the first names on the Scotland team-sheet during the first five years of Townsend’s tenure as head coach, but a combination of injury, the march of time and the emergence of Rory Darge has turned him into a fringe character during this World Cup. But the man is a born competitor and was always going to treat this first appearance of the campaign as a golden opportunity to stake his claim for the big one against Ireland in Paris next weekend. He will be annoyed at missing a tackle on the powerful Jason Tomane midway through the first half but ran some great support lines and bounced tackles like he did in his heyday.
Try number two came on 16 minutes, when a set-play from a line-out saw Ben Healy loop round Redpath then send Darcy Graham into space. The winger made good ground before feeding sending Ali Price, running a classic scrum-half support line, under the posts.
Price, of course, is another former stalwart – one of four British and Irish Lion who has dropped down the pecking order during the last year and a bit – looking to push their way back into the first-choice starting XV. Townsend was getting exactly the reaction he would have been hoping for.
Having made one try, Graham secured the first of his four scores five minutes later, with Price returning the favour by breaking right then popping back inside to send the winger on a 50-metre sprint to the line.
It looked for all the world like Ollie Smith was going in for the bonus point try just before the half hour mark when he hit a great line off Price’s flat pass, but the full-back couldn’t quite gather, and Romania showed their pluck by countering off the loose ball from behind their own line, getting as far as halfway.
Romania lost hooker Robert Irimescu to the sin-bin for a high hit on Healy and blindside flanker Florian Rosu for collapsing the maul on 30 and 32 minutes, respectively, and in between times the TMO ruled that Jamie Bhatti had been stopped short of the try-line.
It took Scotland a while to capitalise on the two-man advantage – not helped by conceding a scrum penalty for collapsing five yards from the Romania line – before a long passage of continuity play eventually saw Graham streaking home for his second.
Next on the scoresheet was Matt Fagerson, bustling over from close range after Smith recycled despite being clobbered with a high hit by opposite number Marius Simionescu, which saw the Romanian full-back become the third member of his team to be sent to the sin-bin inside 10 minutes.
Romania desperately needed the half-time whistle, but they were told they had to restart by referee Wayne Barnes, and Scotland wasted no time in piling further misery onto their bedraggled opponents, with Chris Harris breaking from his own 22 to past halfway straight from kick-off, then feeding Price on his inside, who quickly sent the ball back the way it had come to set up Graham’s hat-trick, making it 42-0 at the break.
Try number eight came after just four minutes of the second half, when Healy sent over a fine cross-kick to Redpath, who held off the tackle and then sent Harris over on the left.
Bhatti had a try-scoring opportunity disallowed by the TMO for a second time in the match, this time he lost the ball forward in the act of ground.
Graham clearly had a taste for it, but he was penalised once after getting isolated as he scrambled for the line and he was nudged into touch a short while later as he tried to wriggle over in the corner.
Instead, it was Smith who was next in on the act, scoring off a long weaving run, then Graham showed that he didn’t have white-line fever by skipping through a couple of passes and feeding Healy, who still had the last man to beat before scoring his first international try under the posts just short of the hour mark.
To their credit, Romania roused themselves and managed to battle their way to the Scottish line, and Johnny Matthews – off the bench for his international debut – did well to get himself between the ball and the in-goal area turf. The losing team huffed and puffed inside the Scotland 22 for a few minutes more, but that was as close as they got.
Given his astonishing try-scoring record everywhere he has played whilst battling from lower league club rugby in England to the international stage during the last five or six years, it was almost inevitable that Matthews would mark his bow on the big stage with a try – and he did it style, swan-diving under the posts at the end of sweeping attack featuring Graham and George Horne.
Matthews fed fellow replacement Darge for try number 11, and Horne clipped over the quick drop-goal conversion as the Scots zoned in on that 89-0 scoreline, and when Graham went in under the sticks with three minutes still to play they got to just five points away – but time ran out.
Scotland: O Smith ( B Kinghorn 58); D Graham, C Harris (H Jones 63), C Redpath, K Steyn; B Healy, A Price (G Horne 54); J Bhatti (R Sutherland 58), E Ashman (J Matthews 58), J Sebastian (W Nel 58), S Skinner, G Gilchrist (S Cummings 58), L Crosbie, H Watson (R Darge 63), M Fagerson.
Romania: M Simionescu; S Lama, J Tomane, F Tangimana (N Onutu 56), T Sikuea; A Conache (T Boldor 52), G Rupanu (F Bardasu 34-38, F Surugiu 61); A Savin (I Hartig 50), R Irimescu (C Burtila 56), G Gajion, A Motoc, ( M Iftimiciuc, 61) S Iancu; F Rosu, D Ser, C Chirica (D Stratila 61).
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Scotland: Tries: Watson, Price, Graham 4, Fagerson, Harris, Smith, Healy, Matthews, Darge; Con: Healy 11, Horne.
Romania: No scorers
Yellow card –
Romania: Irimescu (30mins), Rosu (32mins), Simionescu (39mins)