Scotland 37–12 Tonga

The Tongan team sheets distributed before the match list not only their professional clubs but their home village, suggesting something of the distance they have travelled to represent their country, a job they take fierce pride in.

A look through the birthplaces of the Scotland team reveals a more eclectic mix of origins, from Upper Hutt, Wellington, to Zeewolde, Holland alongside the more usual suspects like Cambusland. But what is clear is the growing influence of the West of Scotland in this Scotland team, so it was natural the semi-regular outreach scheme for the third, perhaps “lesser” autumn international drifted out that way, this year towards the fittingly named Rugby Park in Kilmarnock.

Scotland began in confident mood with initial penalties spurned for lineouts but the Tongans were up to the task defensively. With ball in hand they showed bustling inventiveness, the dry conditions and artificial pitch allowing both sides to keep the tempo up.

Latiume Fosita kicked the first points of the game, before Scotland took another lineout penalty. The first attempt drew another penalty – rejected – before Nili Latu was binned for coming in at the side of a maul, and a second penalty – also rejected – failed to earn the pushover try the pack were clearly aiming for. In the last Tonga match Scotland spurned something like 17 penalties, and we all know how that ended.

Luckily Blair Cowan and the pack drove over eventually, and referee JP Doyle could blow his whistle for the try; perhaps relieved he didn’t have to send any more Tongans for a rest.

While Scotland were edging the set piece, in the loose the pace dictated Doyle’s refereeing style, and any attempts to delay ball by either side were swiftly punished, allowing Fosita to earn Tonga 6 points and the lead, even with a man in the bin.

No sooner had Lutui returned to the field than Doyle had a role to play again when Alex Dunbar was sinbinned for what could have been a dangerous tackle. The TMO was unable to shed any light on it for the crowd at any rate, and Doyle didn’t look like he had much to go on save his Assistant Referee’s recommendation.

Still, it gave the Tongans heart and Fosita kicked another penalty when given the opportunity to increase the visitors lead. Scotland weren’t playing particularly badly but they were on the wrong side of the whistle and the scoreboard.

There were signs of enterprise from Visser and Laidlaw when they managed to get near the 22, and Russell almost had a try from a charge down that Doyle whistled back. The crowd were keen to see their team run it: but the “oohs” and “aahs” often ended in “hmm”s.

Scotland have made hay from interceptions all Autumn, and just when Tonga looked like they had the Scots on the ropes, Tommy Seymour forced panic amongst the Tongan attackers by rushing up to try and grab another of his interceptions. He didn’t manage it but Stuart Hogg snaffled the ball off his own knees and sprinted from his own 22 to dot down under the posts.

Scotland could have had another just before half time but Laidlaw just failed to hang on to a ball flung from the top of the lineout when he was clean through the gap. Hands in his head, he showed the frustration perhaps felt throughout the team and the stadium at a misfiring first half.

Half time: Scotland 14-12 Tonga

The second half started off with more silly penalties before Finn Russell, having seen the pack fail to make much headroom initially, switched play back to the blindside, offering Alex Dunbar a one on one with a Tongan forward which he made good work of to get the try in the corner.

They were at times guilty of over-enthusiasm to try and put the Tongans away – who were arguably there for the taking – but often that turned things scrappy, and Russell in particular was guilty of this. Sometimes it worked, but sometimes it didn’t; the Scots were also going too wide too quickly.

Resurgent though, was Alex Dunbar, stung into life by his sin-binning. He’s been quiet all Autumn but suddenly he was everywhere, taking his try very well and almost had another, along with an inventive grubber kick that turned the Tongan defence.

Both Gray brothers also continued their form, as did Rob Harley and Blair Cowan, and Johnnie Beattie played in a similar vein to Adam Ashe had which you suspect is exactly what Vern Cotter would have wanted.

Geoff Cross gave away fewer penalties than last week, and capped a strong second half for the Scotland pack with a try referred to the TMO that was given to the delight of the Kilmarnock crowd.

Scotland’s confidence in their set-piece over Tonga was illustrated by the choice of a penalty at a scrum near the Tongan line with ten minutes to play. It was not a particularly exciting way to spend the last few minutes of the game, especially as they made a muddle of it and Doyle certainly wasn’t marching under the posts as they obviously fancied.

In the end Scotland resorted to a cross-field kick that bounced off Duncan Taylor’s hand into the arms of Tommy Seymour who dotted down for the simplest of tries.

Scotland continued to try things in the backs till the final whistle, but the game had been won through the increasingly settled and confident pack: who look more likely than they have in years to put fire back into the belly of Scottish rugby.

SRBlog Man of the Match: if not for the yellow card, Alex Dunbar all but played his way into contention and Laidlaw capped off an excellent series with a captain’s performance, but as usual the pack were excellent and Blair Cowan was at the heart of it all. His back-row combination with the aggressive Rob Harley is starting to gel nicely.

Referee: JP Doyle (RFU)

Attendance: 16,023 (est)

Scorers:

Scotland

Tries: Cowan, Hogg, Dunbar, Cross, Seymour
Con: Laidlaw (3)
Pen: Laidlaw (2)

Tonga

Pen: Fosita (4)

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25 comments on “Scotland 37–12 Tonga

  1. Old Whistler on

    J P Doyle harsh penalising players for not rolling away who were trapped and held down by their opponents. Glen Jackson in Dublin not whistling this.

  2. Neil on

    Another good result and great performance by the scots. only a year ago we couldnt score a try for love or money but now we play with a new sense of purpose. The weird thing is that many of our players were arround 12-24 months ago and when we lost to Tonga in that awful game in 2012. My point is- what a difference a coach can make- I make it at least 30 points in every game. I really hope we can hang on to him as I believe we have a genuine chance of winning the 6 nations and doing well, though definately not winning, the world cup. Having watch Wales and England play NZ I think we could match these teams quite easily and i dont think wins agains france and Ireland would be impossible either. I also expect us to beat Italy by 30 points or more.

    • Borderer on

      Agree with most of that Neil, the important thing is to keep improving through the six nations and, hopefully, win at least three games. It will be a step up though. One factor that I think doesn’t help us is that the other sides, Italy apart, still see us as a relatively easy win and, as such, play with confidence from the start. We can only overcome that by beating them regularly and this team is showing a new self belief brought about by a coach they respect and a system they like playing. It is possible to beat them all but it’s equally possible to lose to them all, we need to start well.
      I have been very impressed by the performances from the new players, and players like Cowan and Hartley who only have a few caps. Jonny Gray would be my man of the series.

  3. Neil on

    Can anyone shed light on the fact that we always seem to play one game less that other 6 nation teams in the Autumn interbnationals. also, Why do we only get one match against top 4 opposition when England Walees, france and Ireland play at least two. Is this another crazy decision by the SRU or is there a more logical explanation. i would be intereated to hear the views of others as it seems to be recurent thems- less matches and more against lowly opposition.

  4. Mr P on

    Can’t say about the actual opposition but it’s three because that’s the international ‘window’ and clubs are not obliged to release their players (North, though, has a specific clause in his contract with Northampton). Wales next match against SA is w/o most of its non-Wales based players. Scotland had four games on its summer tour and look at what happened in the fourth game (outside the window), the one against SA.

    • FF on

      Yes, the anomaly is actually teams playing 4 AI tests. Wales always do it as they are trying to pay off the millennium stadium debt as soon as possible. England have a contract with PRL that let’s them do it once every 3/4 years or something like that. No other sides do it routinely.

      The test schedules are negotiated years in advance and the last time they were negotiated Andy Robinson was in charge. Particularly for summer tours, we struggle to get top games because we aren’t a priority for SH sides because we have been so poor for so long. However, in the AIs we frequently play two big SH teams – 2013, 2012, 2010, 2008. When we don’t I believe it’s because we are a lower priority than better NH sides – Australia will happily play Wales numerous times every year because they think they always give them a good game (perhaps unfairly as we have more wins against them in the recent past). In Australia, Wlaes can draw some kind of crowd whereas we just can’t.

      Let’s hope next time negotiations come round Scotland are a more exciting prospect to play against.

      • Neil on

        FF- thanks for the clarification and it seems to make sense as we have been poor in recent years. My only comment to that is I seemed to remember Scotland playing less test matches in the late 80’s and through the 90’s when we were top of our game and were either winning or coming close to winning championships. It certainly didnt make much sense then as we could fill Murryfield several times over and, for the most part, we were far better than Wales. Its only since 2001 that we have produced teams that were the laughing stock and it got to boiling point for me after the 2012 defeat to Tonga. That was embarassing and I was ashamed to call myself Scottish for a while. I just hope that our team has turned things arround and its not another false dawn. I would say that if we can get 3 good wins in the 6 nations then we can safely say that things have changed. I find it incredable that the change is really only down to two people- Gregor Townsend and Vern Cotter.

  5. pragmatic optimist on

    Looks like we need to beat Wales a few times then.
    Glasgow didn’t look very threatening on Friday night minus their internationals?

  6. Neil on

    Exactly- minus our internationals- most of the Scottish team are taken from Glasgow. It is a credit to Glasgow that they could field a B team at an away fixture to the Scarlets and the score was still semi respectable. I would be more worried about the situation at Edinburgh. They are a poor team, have a mediocre coach and are full of second rate players from other countries that no other team will have. They need to follow the Glasgow model- concentrate on home grown talent. Boy I just wish we had a pro team in the Scottish borders- they would run riot.

  7. pragmatic optimist on

    You’d think so, wouldn’t you? t suggested that we needed a pro team in the borders in previous blogs. I was given a really hard time by people in the borders saying they neither needed one nor wanted one. I was too shocked and amazed to push the argument too far. They preferred their club rugby and didn’t want outsiders like me sticking their noses into it. I argued that it was important for Scottish rugby to have a team in the borders, but they were having none of it. Be careful what you wish for Neil.

  8. Neil on

    I know exactly what the probl;em is with the borders- dep routed allegences to kelso, Hawick, melrose etc without seeing the bigger picture. The fact is that thee teams are too small to compte against Bath Leinster etc but a united borders team could do it. These local club teams would not dissapear overnight either. they couold be good feeder teams to a border team. In south wales the teams of Neath and Swansea play in a lower league but come together as the Ospreys. It seems to work for them so why not in the borders.

    • FF on

      Neil, the regional model in Wales has been a total disaster and it has disenfranchised the vast majority of rugby fans in Wales. I’ve never read a single word of praise for the regional set up from Welsh fans. I don’t think the situation is completely analogous to the borders but if/when pro-rugby is established again (for the third attempt) Scottish rugby would need to develop a model that avoided the pitfalls the Welsh have fallen into and that wouldn’t necessarily be easy. I’m not sure Melrose want to be a feeder team to a pro-team playing their matches at Netherdale but if you don’t get buy in from the leading clubs you don’t have a region, which is exactly what the Welsh sides have struggled with.

  9. Neil on

    FF- Im not so sure about the Welsh setup being a disaster. Just look at how well the Ospreys have performed in recent years and they have supplied loads of players to the Welsh national team. I agree that old habits die hard and it may be difficult to persuade fans to get behind a borders team but that could change with a bit of effort. As soon as the team starts to deliver on the park I’m sure that they will change their minds. All of the border teams could act as feeders but I’m sure it would be possible to attract players from Edinburgh and other places as well so the smaller town teams would not loose out in a significant way. In fact they would benefit as they would be able to sell their players, make a profit and churn that back into their own team. Tick Tick all round if you ask me. There is just so much talent in the borders and passion for the game that I find it incredible that there is no pro team there competing for the top honours. Even as a Fifer living in Saudi Arabia I love the borders- famous for two things in my opinion- salmon fishing and rugby. Its just a shame that the latter seems to be flagging. Its almost like having a gold mine on your doorstep only to be told that you own it but cant take any profits from it.

  10. Nicholas on

    Sorry to bring a realistically negative tone of voice to all this, but I don’t think we have a chance come the 6Nations. The scrum still needs a lot of work and Ross Ford needs to learn how to hook the ball. As much as people would like to deny it, that was an Argentinian side on very poor form, a 2/3rd string All Blacks side, and a disjointed Tongan team.

    The other 6 Nations sides will have jelled at a more intense level against far stronger opposition. The Scottish side that takes the field come February will have to be prepared to move up another level at which they’ve had no exposure at.

    Optimistically, you might say we’ll beat a turmoiled French team in the opening game. Even then we’ll have the Welsh at BT Murrayfield and I think they’ll simply blow us away. Still it’ll be good experience for a young team ahead of RWC2015.

    • Ruairidh Campbell on

      I wouldn’t expect the Welsh to “blow us away”. In fact, that one will probably be a lot closer than you would expect. The tough ones will be Ireland (who will probably win the title) and England (as usual)

    • FF on

      I think that is an unnecessarily pessimistic summation to be honest.

      The Argentinian side had just enjoyed its most successful Rugby Championship ever and made only 4 injury enforced changes to their side that beat Australia. A weakened side went on to beat Italy and then their first string beat France (who had themselves prevailed against Australia the weekend before). It seems to me that the only evidence that they were on poor form was that we totally gubbed them for 70 minutes.

      New Zealand brought a touring side of 32 to the NH – how you think that translates as a 2/3rd team beats me. It was clearly their second string – but augmented with Carter, McCaw, Smith. Also, if you think players like Fekitoa, Crotty, Vito, Cane lack quality rather than being the stars of the ABs next generation than suit yourself. I have no doubt that side would be in contention for the 6N title most years if they were a european side.

      Finally, Tonga’s previous results were smashing Georgia and USA. In this year’s pacific nations cup they drew with Samoa (but lost heavily to Fiji). They may be the tier below us but they are one of the leading sides in that tier and we beat them 5 tries to nil. Saying they were disjointed just means we trounced them. They’d been together for 3 weeks which is just about the best preparation a PI team ever gets.

      So, our autumn report card should read: performed well but room for improvement. If progress continues, teacher will consider moving up a class.

      Beating Italy and France/Wales is probably the benchmark for saying we have made some progress. Both Wales and France were at times fantastic and at times absolutely dire. If we perform to our best and put them under pressure there is no reason to think we cannot win.

      • Nicholas on

        FF and Ruairidh,
        I’m clearly looking at the Autumn Internationals from a ‘glass half empty’ perspective, and when you justify your optimism like that there is some good reason there. However, I’ve sat through too many dismal 6Nations matches following an encouraging Autumn International series to try and put a positive spin on our recently (10 years) rubbish 6Nation statistics.

        McCaw was played out of position, Dan Carter is the 3rd choice 10 who had just come back from injury, and they’d played Colin Slade on the wing. I’m not sure how often he plays on the wing for the Crusaders but that seems like a very experimental call. 13 of the AB players starting against us didn’t start against England. So as far as All Blacks sides go, that seems as week as you can get before fielding a NZ Maori side.

        As for Argentina, despite the fact they had just recorded a victory over the wallabies and they’d made only a few changes they simply didn’t turn up. Previous form and XV selection aside, player mentality is any rugby side’s bread and butter which the Pumas utterly lacked from kick off.

        Tonga, yes they convincingly beat the USA and Georgia but neither of those sides can be considered close to top 4 6Nations side quality. What concerned me most about that game was they found it so easy to disable our attack when we tried to play through stand off in the first half. The other 6Nation coaching staff will see that our pick and go play is dangerous and all that we really have to offer against quality opposition. The try fest we enjoyed in the second half came as Tongan substitutions resulted in disorganised defence (hence disjointed) and it took a lucky bounce for Hogg to run the field, as opportunistic as it was, that was the point at which the Tongans started to disintegrate. I doubt we’ll have such luck in February.

      • FF on

        You’re certainly not alone in worrying we will soon wake up from another false dawn. We’ve been starved of success for so long that every crumb of comfort is seized upon and every half decent player is turned into the next Great White Hope. I really do think the Scottish game is finally getting to grips with professionalism although we clearly remain some way behind the leading nations in both hemispheres. But the only thing that counts is results on the field – February can’t come soon enough for me!

    • Wee crater on

      Nicholas- The way I look at it at any time we can only play and be measured against the opposition selected against us which happened in the Autumn Internationals. Yes the ABs picked a revamped side from England game and weaker but no side that takes the field is anything other than committed and guys were playing for places in RWC squad. Argentina did play poorly and after win v Australia should have been a force to be reckoned with, perhaps they just expected to turn up and win easy.
      Tonga also pitched up on the back of a good result but we’re no pushover,like Fiji were v Wales, and after a wobbly start we showed maturity and won well.Some good fortune involved but I will take that as has not looked on us friendly for seems an age

      The sheer intensity and first signs of a gameplan and style from the whole Scotland team give good grounds for optimism prior to 6N.Just think that there has been nothing resembling this clear development in our play in 10 years. Or is it simply us going back to basics and playing to our strengths…5 weeks coming up for us to judge and hopefully savour some real progress.

  11. Neil on

    I agree with FF- we beat an Argentinian side that had recently run NZ close and beat OZ. We then followed this with a narrow loss to NZ- Ok the NZ team were slightly understrength but they still included lots of players that won the WC a couple of years ago. We then took on Tonga and got a reasonably easy victory. I would say job well done. I really dont think there is much difference between most 6 nation teams. I would say England and Ireland have only a very slight advantage over the rest and Italy are wooden spoon contenders. Based on Autumn international results, I think the other teams are about the same. However, I’m trying not to get carried away as there is such a fine line between say winning 4 games by 5 points and winning the championship and loosing the same games by the same margin and then contending the wooden spoon with Italy. I just think the team is very different to the one we have had for the last 15 years. At last we can score tries and, at last we play with purpose and a bit of skill. I would say that is progress.

  12. Wee crater on

    Thinking back to just last season when we regressed there is more to admire than dismiss in our last three games.

    It’s early days for this reinvigorated Scotland team and proof of the pudding will be the 5 weeks of 6N matches.Despite false dawns before
    I strongly feel we are on the right track and importantly the players look more confident,executing well with tries without the old butchering of scoring chances which we have had to endure for too long.A work in progress certainly but confident Cotter during that time together can bring out the best with this group of players who possess a higher skill set than previous selections ie breakaway unit and second row.

    Three wins is a big ask based on some great performances from Ireland and Wales against the SH big guns.Still Italy should be a banker,can catch France on a bad day in Paris, perhaps ride our luck against Wales or England for a change. The 6N always has surprises…it’s our turn!

    • Ruairidh Campbell on

      I don’t think its particularly fair to say that we will have an easy win over Italy (it usually backfires). Remember that they really should have beaten Argentina and stayed well in touch with South Africa until the last 10 minutes of that game last week.

      • FF on

        I expect us to beat Italy comfortably. It’s fair to say we’ve ridden our luck against them recently but nevertheless we have won our last three games against them. They are ranked 14th because they won only once in 2014 (against Samoa) and lost to Fiji, Japan, Samoa, Argentina as well as getting the 6N wooden spoon including two absolute hammerings to Ireland and England.

        If we prepare well we should beat them. Italy’s old guard are truly old and waning, their chronic FH problems put ours in perspective (Haimona is a 28 year old who only last season won a pro-contract with Zebre and has only become first pick this year, last year he was farmed out to Calvisano instead) and they simply are not producing young players of sufficient quality to compete with the top tier on any kind of consistent basis.

        If we can’t beat them at Murrayfield (where we have only ever lost to them once) we really don’t deserve our place in the 6N. With progress comes expectation and beating this Italy side at home should be relatively routine.

  13. pragmatic optimist on

    I read somewhere recently that Scotland have won their first game in the 6N, only once in the last 15 years. That’s such a damning statistic!
    In the event of the first defeat each year, the forensic deconstruction process begins and blows all the best laid plans to smithereens.
    The importance of getting that 1st match win can’t be overestimated. It’s all about momentum in this tournament. It’s just so vital to make positive progress, when small differences between the teams can lead to 30 point swings.
    If we can somehow, achieve a win in France, then I’d expect us to build on that and win against Italy.
    Then Wales. After the humiliation of last year I really would like to see a positive reaction to that.
    After that, who knows. The games seem to sequence well for Scotland this year, becoming progressively more difficult.
    If they can just win that first match…………

    • Neil on

      Winning the first match would be nice but its not essential. I would say that Italy are fairly poor and I would expect the Scots to beat them by at least 15-20 points. France are unpredictable but who knows. The other teams are at about the same level as us so it will depend on a bit of luck. In the past we have had good Autumn results followed by failure in the six nations but there are some differences this time round. For a start we can score tries and seem to be playing with a much higher level of intensity. I remember when we beat OZ around 4 years ago we didn’t score a single try and were hanging on for dear life in the last quarter when OZ had a try disallowed and then Matty Giteua missed a simple kick in the last minute that would have resulted in an OZ victory by a point. In other words we got lucky. The following year we beat SA but that had more to do with the fact that SA were poor rather than Scotland being good. For some reason they had an off day and played like a bunch of pansies but the scots were not much better. In other words we were the best of two mediocre teams on the day. This year was much more convincing. We truly deserved our victories over Argentina and Tonga, and we pushed NZ closer than we have since the early 1990s when I was expecting the usual token loss by 50 points or more. Sure we are still probably the 7th or 8th best team in the world with little or any chance of winning the WC but, with Vern Cotter in charge and Glasgow going strong under Gregor Townsend I think things are moving in the right direction in spite of the inactivity on the part of the SRU.

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