It was a dream start for Darryl Marfo in Scotland colours at BT Murrayfield, who won a turnover on the deck that led directly to Stuart Hogg’s try after just 2 minutes of this Autumn test against Samoa. Russell chipped the ball into space, Seymour hacked it into the Samoan 22 and the bounce was ever so lucky/perfect for Hogg to gather and dive under the posts.
After that excitable start, this game settled into a scrappy affair characterised by poor kicking from hand and otherwise. Finn Russell missed one penalty to touch; Samoan fly-half Tim Nanai-Williams missed a penalty at goal. They both made up for it minutes later with a penalty apiece to make it 10-3 after quarter of an hour.
Scotland were mostly playing from scraps of turnover ball. Hogg almost had a second try inside 20 minutes but the touchline denied Lee Jones the chance to kick it through for Stuart Hogg who would have got there in his speedy new de-Guinnessed form.
It seemed like the first scrum wasn’t until the 19th minute, a testament to the high-tempo, open nature of the game although both sides were guilty of what Dave Rennie or Vern might say was “not looking after the pill”.
Samoa had the majority of possession and the Scots kicked them plenty more but it was well past the half hour mark before the visitors sent their big ball carriers through the middle of the Scottish defence which became wilfully complicit in their success. Josh Tyrell was the main beneficiary, bashing his way under the posts for the try.
It was scrappy, with plenty of errors. McInally, Toolis and Watson looked sharp with the first two the only carriers of note up front and Watson putting in a huge effort defensively.
Worryingly, WP Nel – who had also looked in decent shape to that point – went off after half an hour with a suspected arm fracture.
As the break approached, suddenly the hitherto unemployed Scottish centres sprung into life. Alex Dunbar had a big carry down the right wing but the offload everyone could see coming somehow ended up with Nanai-Williams. He was bundled into touch and Hogg took a quick throw. The ball worked its way to Huw Jones on the other wing who had too much power and pace for the defence and went over in the corner.
Russell missed the conversion but the Scots weren’t done, with the effective Stuart McInally commanding the lineout drive from the back to scuttle over for his first try, and putting a gloss on the score in Scotland’s favour.
Half-time: Scotland 25-10 Samoa
Samoa started with more of a kicking game plan in the second half, effectively trying to impose some structure on such a loose affair.
As if to show they can do a bit of structure themselves – not that you’d know by the freewheeling Finn, who kept throwing mad no-look hospital passes to Dunbar – McInally took a second pushover try minutes into the second half nearly identical to his first.
The set piece basics were done pretty well on the limited occasions the games stopped, and the Samoans were second best for most of them. This side of Scotland’s game will of course be tested far harder next weekend.
The biggest area of worry was the defence, which Samoa opened up with a series of bruising pick-and-go carries on the Scotland line that the TMO felt resulted in a try, despite any clear evidence that the ball touched the ground. The Scots still had a 15 point lead but with half an hour still to play there was no room for complacency.
Ali Price and Russell were running the game well and certainly kept the tempo up but there wasn’t much of an opportunity for the ball carriers to get motoring. McInally aside, Ben Toolis was possibly the standout forward although Watson put in a huge amount of work in the second half as he had in the first.
This was one for the backs though, with Russell and Hogg directing the traffic and constantly varying the point of attack. All of them looked lively when they held on to the ball but there was a little too much ambition and execution that wasn’t good enough.
After an hour the benches emptied and Chris Harris, Jamie Bhatti and George Turner earned their first caps. Harris replaced Tommy Seymour who walked off gingerly, hopefully not too serious. Darryl Marfo did pretty well for a first effort, although he looked a little laboured at times he certainly wasn’t afraid to get stuck in.
The referee was also starting to penalise Scotland pretty heavily and Samoa were starting to make the scoreboard margin seem pretty uncomfortable. They made all the pressure count with first a penalty, then a try from an incisive run from Samoa’s standout Tim Nanai-Williams who found a hole in the Scottish defence. He converted to narrow the gap to just 8 points.
The teams were still two scores apart, but fingernails were being chewed in the capacity crowd at Murrayfield.Alex Dunbar showed he’s back to near his powerful best with a barrel over from short range created by a Lee Jones offload, which was in turn created by a Pete Horne chip kick. The result wasn’t put beyond a doubt even with that score, as Kieron Fonotia slid under the Scottish defence and Nanai-Williams converted to make it a 6 point game with ten minutes to play.
Scotland should have had enough to see it out, but were hampered throughout the game by kicking too much ball away and basic mistakes as the combinations on the field became more unfamiliar.
Cornell du Preez had an extremely effective cameo from the bench, providing the direct running up front and offloading that had been missing from the pack for most of the match. Pete Horne scampered into the space he created with a clever offload and made it to the line; to finally put the result beyond doubt, surely?
Not just yet.
The Scottish defence leaked another soft try as replacement Ofisa Treviranus closed the gap again with Samoa’s fifth try and the familiar prospect of a nervy last few minutes. Some clever work defending the lineout by Tim Swinson gave Scotland the scrum as the clock ticked over 80 minutes.
Pyrgos was able to gather and boot it at the advertising hoardings to provide the result that had seemed obvious from the second minute; credit to Samoa that they made it anything but.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Stuart McInally – the former back row man provided reassurance at the set piece, scored two tries and let’s face it all the really rubbish stuff happened when he was off the park. Toolis and Price were also very good, Hogg was steady and Huw Jones woefully underused.
Referee: Nic Berry (ARFU)