Fiji and Scotland did battle yesterday around 3.30am UK time in a windy and slightly grey ANZ Stadium in Suva. Conditions might have been blamed for the large number of turnovers throughout the whole match, but in truth it was a scrappy affair and Fiji were better placed to take advantage than a tired Scotland side.
Referee Pascal Gauzere was a fairly vocal presence in the first half of the game as the Fijian exuberance got on the wrong side of his brand of rugby justice.
Fiji saw two men go to the bin in the first half but Scotland weren’t blameless as Strauss also spent some time on the naughty step for a no-arms tackle on his old Glasgow Warriors teammate Leone Nakarawa.
Going into the game Scotland were potentially chasing a 4th place ranking but it was a very jumbled performance where they lacked cutting edge and accuracy in no small measure.
Henry Pygros and Ruaridh Jackson often looked indecisive at best and incoherent at worst, running up blind alleys in an attempt to play the fast paced game that Townsend wants, but without the direction and forward thrust that it requires. In the first quarter of the game first Horne, Swinson and then Visser failed to get over the line then when Fiji attacked at the other end they tried to counter from deep and got into trouble.
Fijian standoff Ben Volavola missed his first kick in the wind but made his second attempt count on 26 minutes to open the scoring.
Scotland continued to bluster aimlessly; it was a first to find yourself wishing for Finn Russell and Ali Price present to instill some direction in the team’s play.
As it was, it fell to 110 cap record holder Ross Ford who took the bull by the horns and powered over at the back of a driving maul but the lead didn’t last long as another Volavola penalty went over, even as Fiji went back down to 14 men, Peni Ravai Kovekalou going to the bin. Fiji were not finished though as a huge hit on Duncan Taylor – one that he never recovered from – by openside Peceli Yato spilled the ball loose. Showing some variation to their play, Volavola put in a kick pass to Patrick Osborne who steamrolled Jackson before popping it back to Yato to score.
The home side were very happy to go in 11-7 up. Townsend: not so much.
Half-time: Fiji 11-7 Scotland
Minutes into the second half, Fiji were attacking again were denied a try under the posts when only John Barclay had sufficient wit to steal the inevitable offload.
They settled for a penalty and if the Scots were still under any illusions that this would be a romp to a world ranking of 4th they must surely have been dispelled.
The bench was emptied with half an hour to play with Fagerson, Reid, Brown and Watson attempting to steady the Scottish ship and succeeding slightly. The set pieces went well – even more so when Toolis appeared – and a strong attacking scrum from Scotland was followed up by Watson and Strauss who managed to knock the ball loose in the tackle. It landed at the feet of Ruaridh Jackson who gathered it to score, converting to level the scores.
As was common with the Scotland we thought consigned to the past, they then bumbled the following restart and Fijian pressure earned another penalty, Volavola kicking calmly in the wind. Leone Nakarawa demonstrated a far less collected kicking effort moments later but otherwise Fiji were as in control of their gameplan as they get, and far more able to deal with the conditions and the kind of game than the Scots, who probably don’t aspire for it to be quite this crazy.
Scotland battered at the Fijian line with the fresh legs to the fore and Grigg finally showing the hard angles he cuts so well. But in the end Jackson was only able to take 3 points to level it up again.
Fiji were in no mood for a draw though and struck back immediately, Nakarawa slipping past three of his former teammates then offloading to Henry Seniloli for the try to the delight of the locals.
With 20 minutes still to play, Scotland needed to be far smarter, especially as another Volavola penalty stretched the lead to 10 points ten minutes later. The tour was ending on a sour note, as everything Scotland tried, failed. For a team with usually good skills, Scotland were let down by the basics against a team with luck, the crowd and the clock on their side.
Brown, filling in at captain, lead as Ford had for a mirror image of his predecessor’s try from the back of a maul to narrow the lead with 5 minutes to play. Then there were 4 minutes, then 3… and so on. Scotland had one last chance to break and Visser looked good for a moment but was altogether too close to the touchline for anything other than ending the game by bumped into touch.
Scotland: not yet the 4th best rugby nation in the world, that much is clear. The Australia game was an undoubted high, but there will be plenty of food for Gregor Townsend to chew over this summer after this game.
SRBlog Man of the Match: One of the harder ones to pick, especially as the replacements were a great improvement. For getting us going Ross Ford, and for almost giving us hope, Fraser Brown can share it.