RWC23: Scotland v Tonga report: Scots get the job done

Head injury to skipper Jamie Ritchie casts long shadow over convincing win

Kyle Steyn was a try-scorer for Scotland against Tonga. Image: © Craig Watson -
Kyle Steyn was a try-scorer for Scotland against Tonga. Image: © Craig Watson -

Scotland 45

Tonga 17

DAVID BARNES @ Stade de Nice

ALL the pre-match chat among the sizeable Scottish contingent which has descended on Nice this weekend was about how what their team must do in their next three matches if they are to progress from this trickiest of World Cup pools. The general consensus was that Ireland’s epic victory over South Africa in Paris on Saturday night means Gregor Townsend’s side are going to have to produce a performance of the ages when they face the men in green in just under a fortnight’s time – assuming, that is, there are no slip ups before then.

But sometimes in rugby it is about the here and now … the six inches in front of your face. And with a dangerous Tonga side inflamed by their 59-16 loss to Ireland eight days previously standing in Scotland’s way, this was one such moment.

By and large, they got the job done, but it wasn’t a completely convincing performance. They got the win, they got the bonus point and at least their points differential (which will come into play if there is a three-way tie at the end of the pool stage) is back in black following their 18-3 opening weekend loss to South Africa … although +13  is an awful long way behind the +122 of Ireland and the +86 of South Africa.

A big concern is the loss of captain Jamie Ritchie before half-time with a head injury. The flanker looked groggy as he made his way from the pitch following a collision with Afusipa Taumpepeau, and while he was likely to be rested next week against Romania, the 12-day stand-down rule makes him a doubt for that Irish showdown, when his leadership, aggression and never-say-die attitude would be key to causing an upset.

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Scotland missed an early opportunity to settle nerves when Blair Kinghorn kicked forward turnover possession from just outside his own 22, and then won the 60-yard footrace to the ball as it bounced tantalisingly towards the try-line, but the timing just wasn’t quite right, and the flying full-back overshot his target before it entered the in-gaol area.

It didn’t, however, prove to be a costly miscalculation, because just two minutes later, a line-out maul thundered a full 20-yards for hooker George Turner to get the opening score, with Finn Russell slotting the fairly easy conversion.

Tonga bit back when William Havili slotted a long-range scrum penalty, given against Rory Sutherland whose knee had hit the deck.

Scotland were cutting some nice shapes across the backline against a far less oppressive defence than they encountered a fortnight ago in Marseilles, but Duhan van der Merwe bouncing off Solomone Kata‘s shoulder like a rubber ball, and a big hit in the middle of the park on Sione Tuipulotu by opposite number Pita Ahki, served as timely reminders of Tonga’s physical threat.

The Pacific Islanders then demonstrated their attacking potentials when a sweeping attack and sublime offload from Salesi [previously Charles] Piutau sent Kata over, and Havili’s conversion made it 7-10 to the team in red with just over 20 minutes played.

After a tricky time against the Springboks, Russell was back to his ball-on-a-string best, with one excellent 50-22 coming to nothing when the ball was lost at a subsequent ruck, before he nearly released Kyle Steyn on the right with an equally impressive cross-kick, but this time the busy winger couldn’t quite collect under pressure from two defenders, including Havili, who was penalised for a no-arms tackle.

That Scots kicked to touch and when they couldn’t get traction with their maul on this occasion, the ball was spread across the park, with Russell and Tiupulotu working that wrap-around move they so love, before Kinghorn sent Duhan van der Merwe over.

No conversion but Scotland were back in front, and this time they kicked on, with Russell’s flat pass putting Steyn in space, and he shrugged off a despairing tackle from Ahki on his way to the line. This time the conversion came back off the left post.

Scotland lost Ritchie when he accelerated into contact and was caught by Taumpepeau, who had failed to lower his body height, and in fact lifted his shoulder as it made contact with the Scottish skipper’s head. Ritchie looked pretty groggy as he left the pitch and did not return from his HIA, while the Tongan winger was initially yellow-carded, and it came as a bit of a shock when there was no upgrade to a red by the ‘Bunker’.

A great chase of Russell’s smart kick by Scott Cummings and Matt Fagerson led to Piutau being bundled into touch deep inside his own 22, and it took some heroic Tongan defending to first repel Chris Harris back over the try line on the right, then bundle van der Merwe into touch on the left, before the pressure finally yielded the bonus-point try from Rory Darge, who picked himself up off the deck in heavy traffic following a tackle in front of the posts and bustled over.

Russell’s conversion was the last act of the first half. The job was half done, with that bonus-point in the bag, but Scotland still needed to make absolutely sure of the win … and boosting their position for a possible points chase to qualify from this pool would be handy, too.


Tonga served notice that they weren’t going down without a fight when they capitalised on some sloppy Scotland play just three minutes after the restart. Ben White hurled a quick line-out to Russell, whose clearance from behind his own line sailed straight towards Kata. The winger ran the ball back with venom then a quick recycle allowed skipper and tight-head prop Ben Tameifuna to build up a head of steam that carried him all the way to the line.

Scotland couldn’t get back into their groove. Kinghorn guddled a fairly straight forward kick receipt into touch, Dempsey was penalised for pulling a Tongan  arm down at the line-out and Russell’s kicking radar seemed to be on the blink.

They needed a moment and it came from the little-and-large combination of replacement scrum-half George Horne, who scampered home, after van der Merwe had used his considerable strength to shrug off Kata’s challenge and turn stagnant possession into something more promising.

Scotland were still some way less than convincing, but they dominated possession and territory for the next 10 minutes, and eventually added to their account when their driving play left Tonga’s defence as a ragged red line and Kinghorn ran a nice angle onto Russell’s pass.

Van der Merwe set off on a rampaging run straight from the restart, reminiscent of his try against England, but this time his steps inside failed to shake off the cover defence, and when his pass to the supporting Kinghorn floated instead to the less well positioned Huw Jones, the scoring opportunity faded away.

Scotland continued to huff and puff, mostly inside Tonga’s 22, and Kinghorn went close again, before Darcy Graham provided an injury-time flourish, coming off his wing to take a short ball from a ruck, jinking clear and then racing home from his own 10-metre line, setting up an easy Russell conversion.

At this point, Tonga were down to 14 men following the yellow-carding of  Vaea Fifita for a dangerous clear-out of Russell on 77 minutes, which was upgraded after the final whistle to a red.


Teams –

Scotland: B Kinghorn; K Steyn (D Graham 47), C Harris (H Jones,  47), S Tuipulotu, D van der Merwe; F Russell, B White (G Horne, 47); R Sutherland (P Schoeman 47), G Turner (E Ashman 58), Z Fagerson (W Nel, 58), R Gray, S Cummings (S Skinner, 64), J Ritchie (M Fagerson 33), R Darge, J Dempsey.

Tonga: S Piutau; S Kata, M Fekitoa, P Ahki, A Taumpepeau; W Havili (P Pellegrini. 77), A Pulu (S Takulua 55); S Fisi’ihoi (T Koloamatangi, 71), P Ngauamo (S Mol i51), B Tameifuna (S Apikotoa 66), H Fifita, S Lousi (A Coleman 55), T Halaifonua (S Vailanu 55), S Talitui (S Paea 69), V Fifita.

Referee: Karl Dickson


Scorers –

Scotland: Tries: Turner, van der Merwe, Steyn, Darge, Horne, Kinghorn, Graham; Con: Russell 5.

Tonga: Tries: Kata, Tameifuna; Con: Havili 2; Pen: Havili.

Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 5-0; 7-o; 7-3; 7-8; 7-10; 12-10; 17-10; 22-10; 24-10 (h-t) 24-15; 24-17; 29-17; 31-17; 36-17; 38-17.



Yellow cards –

Tonga: Taumpepeau (33mins)


Red cards –

Tonga: V Fifita (77mins)


Attendance: 33,189

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About David Barnes 3672 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he 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. Can we settle this points difference issue? Let’s assume SA get 5 points from Tonga, and we get 5 from Romania. If we beat Ireland and deny them a losing BP, both will finish on 14, and the rules are:
    The ranking of tied teams in the pool stage is determined as follows:
    The winner of the Match in which the two tied Teams have played each other shall be the higher ranked.
    The Team which has the best difference between points scored for and points scored against in all its pool Matches shall be the higher ranked.
    So points difference doesn’t matter as Scotland will be higher ranked than Ireland by virtue of beating them in the match between them.

  2. Would have taken that score before the game so not a bad result at all. Yes there are always a few areas that could have been better but Tonga are a tricky side with some very good players so happy with the end result. One recurring area for me is when van der Merve goes on one of his bullocking runs he often never looks or links with the support runners. He needs to lift his vision a bit slow into contact and make the pass rather than barging into defenders – worth a few tries every season.

  3. Horne is now obviously no.1 scrum-half. Kinghorn’s positioning at full back needs analysis. Watch as he drifts away before the first Tongan try. Love him in attack but needs a week with the defence coach.

  4. Unlucky for McInally….hes been a really good player for Scotland and deserved 50caps…just wasn’t meant to be. Wish him all the best.

    Actually really glad Mathews is brought in …was surprised he wasn’t given a shot before hand…been in excellent club form. Hopefully gets a shot v Romania to show what he can do.

    We still haven’t shown we are good enough to beat Ireland….but we won and got a BP. We’ll need around a 100 point deficit victory v Romania…quite the selection dilemma. Need fresh players v Ireland but need the points….Cant see us notching 100 either way…so better to rest the best players.

    On another note…6N is going to be tougher next year…could be pretty open. England and Wales improving….Ireland(without sexton) and France being France.

  5. Watching the Wales Australia game. Australia owned the ball in those first 30 minutes and made a barrow load of line breaks but got forced into making mistakes by the Welsh rush defence. As the game wore on you could feel Australian heads go down as 1 after another attack floundered. The Welsh created nothing for most of the match but instead just kicked and rushed and forced mistakes. A bit South Africa-esque. It’s enough to make a neutral switch off. Australia reminded me a lot of Scotland, plenty of endeavour, floundering on the rocks of bigger teams defence. No idea how this direction can be reversed as smothering defences seem to win games but don’t stir the emotions.
    France are the team to buck the trend. Sure they can defend but they come to play too.

    • We have not shown under GT …that he knows an executable game plan that defeats a top rush defense. Its actually painful to watch us play one.

  6. The lineout is awful. Dalziel clearly has no idea how to fix it. Some suggestion he leaves it to the players (g and g) which if too is surely stupid. Same throws all the time and it appears that teams read our lineout easily. Ritchie wasn’t having a good game and while it was a horrendous red card tackle I don’t mind if he is out. White is a good scrum half but had a poor day and Horne should start. Breakdown was slow and got to speed that up. Tactically again I couldn’t see what Townsend wanted the players to do?

  7. Some great tries but boy oh boy did Tinga gives us a fright. Better discipline from them could have seen a much more uncomfortable afternoon. But job done.

    The first yellow not being upgraded to red is a mystery. Accept they have the benefit of many angles but to me he stood ready to tackle and drive upwards hitting the head of Ritchie. If that’s not a red what is?

  8. A decent enough win but there will be plenty for the coaches to work on from the last quarter alone. Again the lineout went off the rails. I’m also thinking our backs chasing try scoring records is hurting us as we’re continuing to butcher overlaps and failing to look for support runners. Looks like we’ll need to go close to full strength against Portugal in search of a cricket score.

  9. Sione T was fabulously unselfish in his link play. And distribution/speed was so much better when Horne came on. Really sad for Rambo but Jonny has a chance now to show what he cam do. Finally, how is it not a red card if you drive your shoulder straight up into someone’s head in the tackle, hard enough to take that player off the field for the rest of the game?

  10. IF I ever needed an excuse to have a Drink watching the Refereeing abilities of Karl Dickson could be the answer, [along with the TMO and Red Cards], if that isn’t enough to drive a person to drink I don’t know what is.
    I am not totally certain that Ritchie is the best Captain as someone else said recently Russell does seem to be able to cope with the Captaincy and the handling of the Referee.
    There was a strange lack of cohesion at times, but for a rub of the Green, no pun intended we could have had a similar result to Ireland’s performance against Tonga. Darcy Graham what a Billy the Whiz.
    Onward and upward repeat against Romania and then the big one against Ireland, and if we play the 80+ minutes at our best who knows.
    To say I don’t much care if we loose but play at our absolute best isn’t quite true but as long as we don’t ‘Butcher’ any chances or Re-Starts and everybody play to their best ability we can’t ask for more than that.

  11. OK now let’s just get on with Romania and hope Jonny Matthews has been keeping fit! You have got to feel for Rambo we all wanted him to gain his 50th such a sad situation. A huge thank you to him for all he gave the thistle.

  12. Not sure that Ritchie would be the loss claimed, given that his form has dropped off since taking on the captaincy. Seems to have modelled his overly emotional approach on Hogg’s.

  13. Good, but not quite good enough if we’re to progress. Always looked like a tall order that got almost impossible after last night

    So just looking to enjoy the 3 games. And I did enjoy this one, that apart from the refereeing which I thought abysmal.

    Red all day and since when did front rows popping up in the scrum with us going forward not lead to a penalty, twice !

    Thought BK had a good day, but was groggy or something after that first run.

    FR also good, tried a bit too hard for Tonga’s try at the start of the 2nd half.

    We need JR vs Ireland , hope not a bad concussion.

    Need to score 100+ vs Romania !!!

  14. 1st job done, BP win against an improving Tonga. Hope the guys who were hit are ok. That said 7 tries will do me , though I hope that does not come back to bit us in point difference. Another great contribution from Horne always runs great support lines and distributes supper fast. Ashman really needs to improve his line out drill. Rest of the guys no complaints except maybe Harris for his shooting out of the line that lead to the Tongan try. On to Romania where I assume their will be changes, we need to give a few of the guys who have not played a run out, I’d like to see Javan on and maybe Healy at 10 to save Finn, after that cheap shot that lead to the yellow/red.
    Might also be interesting Redpath and Harris together along with Smith, but we will see.


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