DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield
OVER 50,000 fans made it along to Murrayfield to see Scotland’s final run-out team before they fly to Japan on Monday, which is pretty good going on a Friday night against a team lacking big name stars, especially when the national football team were also in action across at Hampden Park.
A comfortable win (in the end) with six well-taken tries meant this was a generally successful exercise for Gregor Townsend’s team, even if there was a lot of loose penalties, scrappy mistakes, shoddy defending and unconvincing scrummaging, which will not be as easily glossed over against Ireland in the tournament opener in just over two weeks’ time. In fairness, this was always likely to be a fairly flat affair, with the World Cup squad already picked.
There was a few of injuries, with Jamie Ritchie the biggest concern. The flanker came off after an impact to the face midway through the second half, and was heading to hospital to be properly assessed. Blair Kinghorn and Ben Toolis picked up head knocks and will have to go through the return-to-play protocol. Blade Thomson and Jonny Gray had hamstring concerns and were taken off early as a precaution.
There was an early scare when Beka Gigashvili burst through the first line of defence, but the tight-head prop lost control of the ball as he was pulled down byGray.
Scotland really should have taken the lead on 11 minutes, when Kinghorn used those long levers of his to release Tommy Seymour on the right touchline with an elegantly easy backhanded flip pass, but with the line at his mercy the winger fumbled the ball and the chance was gone.
It took another five minutes before the home team made their breakthrough on the opposite touchline, when Kinghorn ran back a pretty ordinary clearance kick, Darcy Graham carried the move on, and Sam Johnson provided the final link before Ali Price scuttled in for the score.
Scotland conceded a penalty almost straight from the restart, when Kinghorn dropped a high ball and Gordon Reid picked up from an offside position. Tedo Abzhandadze fired home the points. It was pretty slapdash stuff from Scotland, but hardly halted their momentum.
Scott Cummings, Ritchie and Sam Johnson all made significant dents as the hosts battered their way back upfield, and although Graham had to check himself slightly to collect Adam Hastings’ kick pass, he stayed strong in the tackle to send Kinghorn in for try number two.
Scotland didn’t concede a cheap penalty from the restart this time. They conceded two. The first when Ritchie was called for lying on the wrong side of a ruck, the second for kick-chasers not being behind the kicker. Abzhandadze kicked both to reduce the gap to a single point.
The game, which had bubbled gently during the first half hour, then went completely off the boil. The most interesting thing that happened during the final 10 minutes of the first half was a double yellow-carding, when Zander Fagerson and his opposite number Mikheil Nariashvili were both sent to the sin-bin by French referee Romain Poite, who had lost patience with their shenanigans during a series of collapsed scrums.
Scotland roused themselves to reclaim the initiative at the start of the second half, with Hastings sending Johnson over unchallenged after a prolonged period of pressure. This time, it was a scrum penalty that gave Georgia an immediate opportunity to respond, but Abzhandadze’s effort didn’t have the legs.
The obligatory ‘Mexican Wave’ for games that have lost their edge started around the 54 minute mark but Graham grabbed the focus back for his team when he scuttled up the left touchline and in for try number four, after some slick hands from Hastings, Duncan Taylor and particularly Chris Harris, who expertly hooked two defenders before releasing the winger.
That flattened Georgia. A few minutes later, George Horne was picking the ball off the deck after a half-break from Hastings and nipping home unchallenged under the shadow of the posts.
And big brother Pete Horne then finished off the scoring with almost indecent ease when a half-hearted chip ahead from inside his own 22 by Abzhandadze went nowhere. Horne slid in to collect the loose ball and could hardly believe his luck when he returned to his feet with not a single opposition player within five metres of him, leaving the centre with an unchallenged canter over the line.
Scotland: B Kinghorn (C Harris 28); T Seymour, D Taylor, S Johnson (P Horne 64), D Graham; A Hastings, A Price (G Horne 51); G Reid (A Dell 54), G Turner, Z Fagerson (S Berghan 59), S Cummings, J Gray (B Toolis 40, G Stewart 65)), R Wilson, J Ritchie (M Bradbury 45), B Thomson (S Berghan 33-43).
Georgia: S Matiashvili; Z Dzneladze, D Kacharava (G Kveseladze 52), L Malaghuradze (T Mtchedlidze 65), M Modebadze; T Abzhandadze, V Lobzhanidze ( G Aprasidze 60); M Nariashvili (G Gogichasvili 64), S Mamukashvili (V Karkadze 72), B Gigashvili ( G Melikidze 64), K Mikautadze (L Lonidze 72), G Nemsadze, S Sutiashvili (G Gogichasvili 33-43, B Saghinadze 64), G Tkhilaishvili, B Gorgadze.
Referee: Romain Poite.
Scotland: Tries: Price, Kinghorn, Johnson, Graham, G Horne, P Horne; Cons: Hastings 2, G Horne.
Georgia: Pen: Abzhandadze 3
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 5-0; 5-3; 10-3; 10-6; 10-9 (h-t) 15-9; 17-9; 22-9; 27-9; 29-9; 34-9; 36-9.
Yellow cards –
Georgia: Nariashvili, Dzneladze.