DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield
THE value of this match is that a number of emerging players got their first taste of playing in front of a biggish – 32,371 – crowd at Murrayfield. And the processional nature of the home win means that it will have been a confidence-boosting experience. But, really, this encounter between two teams each missing a raft of front-line performers should be called an A international, because it wasn’t a full-blooded Test match.
Caps absolutely should be awarded for games against Tier Two nations, but if they are being scheduled outside the international window for commercial reasons, and that means players are not available, then we should call it what it is: a development exercise.
The Scots had the match wrapped up with half an hour played. Kyle Steyn was star man with a first-half hat-trick and a fourth try at the death, picking up that accolade ahead of debutant Rufus McLean, who set the early pace with a brace of tries during the opening quarter of an hour.
With the second half fairly turgid until a late flurry of Scottish scores, head coach Gregor Townsend will be quietly satisfied by a job completed with minimum fuss, but mindful that a step-change in gear will be needed when Australia show up at Murrayfield next Sunday.
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We had an early taste of things to come when Darcy Graham ran the ball back from deep, jinking through a forest of red jerseys before finally losing his feet to a desperate tap tackle.
Tonga were determined to show that they had not just pitched up at Murrayfield to act as cannon fodder, and loose-head prop Loni Uhila charged through a gap in midfield then sent Walter Fifita up the left touchline. The giant winger – who signed for Glasgow earlier this month but is yet to play for the club – bounced Graham and Blair Kinghorn onto their backsides before eventually being dragged down just a few yards shot of the line.
Having survived that mild early scare, Scotland took the lead when the ball squirted loose following a thunderous hit by Tanginoa Halaifonou on opposite number Jamie Ritchie, with McLean first on the scene to scamper home from about a dozen yards.
The visitors kept themselves in the contest with a James Faiva penalty, awarded against Rob Harley for not rolling away, but the visiting full-back barely had time to draw breath before he found himself the last man btween McLean and his second try, after an exquisite pass from Kinghorn. It wasn’t a fair contest, with the 21-year-old winger leaving the Tongan clutching at thin air with a sidestep of exquisite beauty.
Faiva kicked a second not-rolling-away penalty for Tonga before right-wing Kyle Steyn got in on the act, collecting the killer pass from Sione Tuipulotu – another debutant – following a slick set move off the back of a scrum.
After Faiva took his and Tonga’s tally to nine, with a third penalty awarded for the same reason, another Scottish new boy in Pierre Schoeman muscled over from close range with just half an hour played, and when Steyn stormed home on a diagonal five minutes later, it looked like the floodgates had opened.
Tonga managed to hold on until the last play of he first half before conceding again, with the hot-stepping McLean leading the break out from his own 22 , Graham carrying the move on, and Kinghorn sending a towering diagonal kick to the right touchline, which Steyn gathered ahead of out-of-position and out-of-shape tight-head David Lolohea. to secure his hat-trick bagged inside a 16-minute window.
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A sure sign that this match had run its course as a meaningful contest arrived early in the second half when an enthusiastic Mexican wave rolled round a half-full Murrayfield. In fairness, there had just been a lengthy hold-up while Schoeman was treated for an injury – he was able to carry on.
George Turner got the downward pressure after Scotland powered a line-out maul over the line on 50 minutes, and it was his last involvement of the contest, with Townsend taking the opportunity to orchestrate a bench clearance which involved a whole new front row, plus Nick Haining replacing Matt Fagerson at No 8.
To Tonga’s credit, they dug deep and exerted a long spell of pressure on the Scottish line just before the hour mark.Harley was sent to the sin-bin after referee Nic Berry lost patience with repeated Scottish infringements, and the Pacific Islanders eventually got their reward when Lolohea burrowed in for the try.
Jamie Dobie and Ross Thompson (at 10 with Kinghorn moving to 15) were now on the park for their debuts. Meanwhile, McLean came off injured after a collision in the air which led to Aisea Halo being sent to the sin-bin, and with no more backs to come off the bench, Haining had to shift to outside centre.
Like a fly to a lightbulb, Haining was drawn back into the rough and tumble of tight play, and he picked up from close range to propel himself across the line for Scotland’s eighth try on 71 minutes, following a Harlem Globetrotters style back-handed offload from Ritchie to Sam Johnson.
Scotland’s superior pack cohesion brought Oli Kebble try number nine with five minutes left, before Steyn finished the match on a high with his fourth try off a lovely inside pass from Thompson.
Scotland: D Graham (R Thompson 61); K Steyn, S Tuipulotu, S Johnson, R McLean (M Sykes 63); B Kinghorn, A Price (J Dobie 58); P Schoeman (J Bhatti 52), G Turner (S McInally 52), Z Fagerson (O Kebble 52), J Hodgson, R Harley, J Ritchie, H Watson (L Crosbie 41), M Fagerson (N Haining 52).
Tonga: J Faiva; A Manu, M Hingano, V Vaea (A Halo 50), W Fifita; K Morath, S Takulua; L Uhila (J Felemi 50), M Ngauamo (S Maile 2), D Lolohea, H Fifita (T Taufa 73), S Funaki (D Faleafa 73), T Halaifonua, F Lokotui (M Kafatolu 61), V Mapapalangi (O Havili 55).
Scotland: Tries: McLean 2, Steyn 4, Schoeman, Turner, Haining, Kebble. Cons: Kinghorn 3, Thompson 2.
Tonga: Try: Lolohea. Pens: Faiva 3.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-3; 12-3; 14-3; 14-6; 19-6; 19-9; 24-9; 16-9; 31-9; 36-9 (h-t) 41-9; 41-14; 46-14; 51-14; 53-14; 58-14; 60-14.
Yellow cards –
Scotland: Harley (58mins)
Tonga: Halo (64mins)
Referee: N Berry (Australia).
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It’s been suggested that the match was just a cynical ‘coffer swelling’ exercise however I think SRU is to be given some credit for offering reasonable ticket price options/free entry to U12 – brought kids who really enjoyed the occasion and atmosphere and exciting rugby served up. It was also good to see the genuine squad depth Scotland are beginning to develop.
Interesting selection posers for GT.
Hogg, Steyn, Harris, Johnson, VDM, Russell, Price, Haining, Watson, Ritchie, Gilchrist, Skinner, Fagerson,Turner, Schoeman
Hastings, Graham, Steele
Fagerson, Hodgson, Kebble, McInally, Sutherland
Tidy win and thought the backline especially the back three were electric. I’ve been very critical of Ali Price in recent seasons but his Lions experience has transformed him. Suddenly the quick service is back and we were able to feed the wingers superbly. Obviously we shouldn’t get carried away about beating a makeshift Tonga….but lot of guys stood up to be counted there and plenty of serious talent to come back into consideration.
Everyone expected a Scotland win and 60 points will do. The structure was disturbed a bit in the 3rd quarter by the subs but came back in the final quarter. That said Steyn and Mclean looked very good in a very good back line. Kinghorn did well at both 10 & 15 and Graham , Johnson and Tuipulotu all put in a promising shift. No real complaints about the rest of the guys , will be interesting to see who comes back next week , who goes to the bench and who gets the wings. Think we can say Hogg,Harris and Johnson start, but who on the wings. Think Finn & Price will start at 10 & 9 as well.
I’d say Darcy and Steyn (he has earned another game after scoring 4 tries today). King Duhan is tough to stop but his defence is susceptible,which we can’t afford v Australia. McLean on the bench I’d say with Blair Kinghorn being on the bench as full back cover.
Time to scotch the myth that VdM is suspect in defence.
Good win to start the series the future stars look the part but the really stuff starts next week but hope the winning streak keeps going