With two tries from debutant Tim Visser and 22 points from Greig Laidlaw, Scotland managed to score fairly freely against a thunderous Fijian side, but too often fell into playing the home side’s flying game. They looked assured of their win in this entertaining affair, even if they had to endure some tense moments.
The game at Churchill, Lautoka started off in the favour of the hosts. Ploughing into contact and drawing in Scots like flies to syrup the Fijians were able to pull two penalties clear before the 10 minute mark, through Jonetani Ralulu.
In response the Scots decided to draw the Fijian heavy fire, a tactic necessary when playing against the physical side, and as neat passing saw Visser take his first proper trip up the touchline there was a sense that Scotland were prepared to build phases. As Visser hit Al Kellock inside the orders were being barked by Laidlaw. The phases culminated in the stand-off sneaking over from short and as he converted his own kick it was 7-6 for Scotland.
The game plan looked to be setting in and when the forwards cracked the Fiji scrum 5m out the referee had no option but to go under the posts and make it 14-6.
The half ended 24-11 to Scotland, after a Fijian counter score from Josefa Domolailai, but the stand out in the half was a slick move where Scotland brutalised another scrum, used the hands and De Luca sprung Visser who greedily scorched over 20m and dotted down in the corner for his first ever Scottish score.
Laidlaw converted from touch and the half ended, with the away side happy but in need of tightening the game up. The scrum was dominating when the mood was taken and Rennie and Strokosch were allowing quick ball, but continuity was fitful.
The start to the second half made this all too clear as Fiji broke from the kick-off. Nothing came off it, but the reminder was enough to force Rennie to burl through tackles and drag his side with him.
Laidlaw snapped another kicked through the posts, but the sizeable 27-11 score was to be short lived. Fiji tried to emulate their more organised opponents. Picking, pumping and barging towards the line captain Netani Talei urged his charges on. He carried himself and as he added his bulk to a drive that saw Waisea Nayacalevu slam the ball on the line.
The Fiji revival was on, and whilst John Barclay did his best to snaffle loose balls and Strokosch and Ryan Grant made tackle after tackle, shunted forward by a grunting Euan Murray, fly hacks and pressure was not enough.
With under 20 minutes left a misjudged charge from a kick saw Fiji blitz down the wing, and as a swaying slalom run saw defenders fall out of place led to a one-handed toss to Metuisela Talebulamaijaina who slid through Stuart Hogg with nice footwork and then poured under the posts. As Rolulu added the extras it was 27-25 and Scotland were sweating.
Scotland had to dig in and ignore the heat and their aching shoulders. Laidlaw knocked over another penalty, but 30-25 was still too close. They needed to be galvanised.
Nick De Luca answered the call by delivering a driving hit and helping to turnover the resurgent Fijians with 4 minutes left. Then he helped chase a high kick from Laidlaw. The cover hesitated and as De Luca caught the ball he only had to gut pass to Visser, who made a hand off of his own and stormed to his second try and the score that ensured victory, 37-25.
Fiji looked for one last consolation score by bursting through wearied defenders, but Hogg and substitute Sean Lamont streaked back to snuff out the chance.
Scorched and sore, Scotland celebrated the win. Taking part in a huddle and prayer with their gracious hosts, there was a sense that a game was won but something more important had taken place. Scotland beat a team for valuable ranking points and won their second game of the tour, but this game is also significant as one of the first world nations toured the Pacific Islands.
The game against Samoa gets more and more interesting.