We were looking for more of the same from the Japan game in the sunshine of Elland Road, Leeds. Unfortunately the first half was worryingly similar, including an inability to deal with the kick off which Grant Gilchrist fumbled into American hands; they ran through the phases and McGinty kicked the first penalty within minutes.
Hogg settled the Scots with a long range penalty but the Scottish scrum was another story, Ford’s inability to hook (whether due to skill or the physical height of the scrum) allowing the pack in navy to be pushed about. While at the breakdown it was a mixed bag too, probably not helped by the loss of Hardie to return to play protocols. Stand in Ryan Wilson put in a lot of work but most of it had to be tackling.
Grant Gilchrist started brightly (kick off aside) with a couple of strong carries but had to go off early in the match allowing Tim Swinson a long spell in and suggesting a Gray brothers boilerhouse may take the field against South Africa.
Where they kept the ball though the Scots looked far more useful and were making gains, with plenty of half chances for offloads inches away from cutting the USA open.
It was the USA that scored the first try though, with a set piece attacking move from a 22 lineout allowing the position for prop Titi Lamositele to shunt over from a ruck.
Stuart Hogg blew a clear chance for a try with a poor pass to Visser at knee height undoing his own good work to dart through the American line and create the chance.
Clearly sensing the danger from the likes of Hogg, Russell and Bennett, big hits from the Eagles players were causing Scotland all sorts of problems; Russell was denied time on the ball that he needs to work his magic, and multiple handling errors were forced. The execution of the passing became forced, to try and amplify any impact the zippy work of Horne and Bennett might have.
The USA ended the half the stronger, camped on the Scots line and Ryan Grant conceded the penalty in front of the posts. Three points was the least they deserved.
Scotland 6-13 USA
A rejuvenated Scotland came out in the second half and the simplest of attacks opened up the USA like a can opener, Strauss making the gain line breaks and Pyrgos whipped it to Hogg who timed his pass perfectly this time to put Visser over.
Scotland’s intensity from 1 to 15 was up with Nel, Dickinson and Fraser Brown (on in the back row) all driving hard and making space for Russell who darted as if to attack, drawing 3 or 4 defenders away from the space that he popped Sean Maitland into, who scampered over from a standing start and the Scots retook the lead.
McGinty replied with a penalty for the Eagles with half an hour to play, narrowing the gap back down but the Scots nearly opened it right back up after Swinson charged down a clearance and regathered just short of the line, before a resurgent Josh Strauss almost made it himself. From the ensuing lineout, returning captain Greig Laidlaw moved it left and with Strauss again denied inches short, fellow SA-born WP Nel shoved himself over at the base of the post.
Once again, from a bleak first half, Scotland found themselves hunting a bonus point.
Initially they chased it through the forwards with some unsuccessful lineout drives and there was the worrying site of Finn Russell limping off with what looked like an ankle injury after an innocuous kick chase. Receiving treatment on the sidelines, he looked his cheery self which hopefully bodes well.
Matt Scott cheered things up on the pitch with a brilliantly cut angle on to Laidlaw’s pop pass before stepping into position to place the ball down and secure the bonus point win.
From there the USA fought hard for a consolation try but Matt Taylor will be happy with the way the Scots kept them out. Duncan Weir finished things off with a short range try, showing surprising power to get over the line and cap off a fine second half by Scotland, giving them maximum points and top position in Pool B.
A fine performance? Scotland are still forty minutes short, and next up are the Springboks.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Hard to separate the project twosome: Josh Strauss improved as the match went on and his ball carrying was crucial in the Scottish try that switched momentum as well as making 16 tackles. Even for a 40 minute performance, WP Nel was hugely impressive in the way he steadied the scrum when he came on for the second half, as well as taking his try well and showing up more than usual in the loose.