Scotland ran out onto the Murrayfield pitch with fireworks and flames shooting up into the Edinburgh skies giving a taste of what was to come. It was clear early on that both sides had come to play rugby with all manner of offloads, surging runs and big hits coming from both sides. At times it resembled a Barbarians match with both sides taking turns at the sublime and ridiculous.
Scotland gathered the kick off and ran through the phases before Finn Russell kicked a high 50/50 ball from his own 22 which was knocked on by Scottish hands and gathered by Fiji who ran through the phases before Scotland were eventually pinged at the ruck. Finn Russell’s understudy at Racing 92, Ben Volavola duly kicked three points.
From the restart Fiji gathered the ball under pressure from Scottish forwards before breaking down the field with Hogg gathering a Fijian chip just short of the try line. It was then time for some Scotland fireworks, running the ball from their own try line with Ryan Wilson pulling off his own Nakarawa-esque offload before the ball was eventually cleared to touch.
Scotland were again pinged at the ruck, this time Peter Horne off his feet and it looked like it might be a long afternoon for Scotland but Volavola’s kick didn’t have the distance and the score remained 0-3.
It was then Fiji’s turn to be pinged, this time for offside and Hogg kicked for touch in a pattern that would repeat itself for every Scottish penalty over the afternoon.
Scotland won the line out and after some initial Fijian resistance made good ground with the maul before being stopped short. The forwards then took the ball again and again to the Fijian line with Jamie Ritchie carrying well before Fiji intercepted. However referee Andrew Brace was playing advantage to Scotland for Fiji infringing in the maul and play was called back. Again Hogg kicked to touch and again Scotland tried to maul their way to the try line making very little progress. Laidlaw decided enough was enough and spun a quick pass to Maitland who almost crawled his way to the line. After a couple of pick and go carries Allan Dell crashed over under Leone Nakarawa for Scotland’s first try with Laidlaw adding two points.
Scotland seem to have shaken their struggles with the restarts for the moment and looked lively, constantly breaking through the Fijian defence with Skinner and Wilson both linking up well. A good passage of play by Scotland eventually saw Alex Dunbar carry deep into Fiji’s 22 throwing off Fijian defenders like dust off his shoulder, apparently fulfilling the “pinball” role in the absence of Watson. Scotland worked the ball wide to Horne who was unable to break the final tackle, or spot Tommy Seymour open and screaming for the ball just outside him. The Scotland pack then battered the Fijian line before Fraser Brown flopped over. Laidlaw, ever reliable with the boot at BT Murrayfield, kicked the extra two points.
From the restart Scotland gathered and kicked to touch, Scotland almost disrupting the line out, before their rush defence forced Fiji to kick for touch within Scotland’s 22. The resulting throw from Brown was long and ended up in the hands of Maafu at the tail of the line. Maafu passed to backrow Yato who burst through the Scottish defence like a runaway truck before putting Big Bill Mata in under the posts with a sublime offload. Dunbar and Hogg tried valiantly to bring down Mata but the angle of the run and sheer power meant their efforts were in vain. This time Volavola couldn’t miss.
Leone Nakarawa then started doing what Leone Nakarawa does best: offloading from the skies like a god. Jamie Ritchie was caught trying to disrupt but could only knock the ball into the hands of scrum half Frank Lomani who charged into the Scotland 22 before being stopped by a scrambling Peter Horne. Fiji recycled the ball quickly, the big lock Cuvabati breaking through the Scottish defence on the angle and passing the ball to outside centre Semi Radradra who dotted down for the try. Volavola added the extras.
At this point, Scotland of old might have panicked at going behind but they disrupted the restart, turning over ball with Wilson making good ground with ball in hand. The ball eventually found Seymour who was isolated and surrounded by white shirts, but Fiji were penalised for being off their feet and Hogg kicked to the corner. A line out, a maul. Scotland marching forward with more white shirts on the Scottish side of the maul than blue: another penalty. Reset. Repeat. Another maul stopped short illegally and this time a card. Second row Tevita Cavubati sent to the bin for collapsing the maul.
At the resulting line out the maul was stopped again but this time legally. Scotland put the ball through the phases and a series of short carries from the base before taking advantage of the extra man, Fraser Brown spinning over for the try. Referee Andrew Brace blew for the score but TMO Ben Skeen had other ideas believing Richie to have caused an obstruction and the try was disallowed. World Rugby had said TMO’s role would be minimised during the Autumn Tests as part of a trial with on-field officials being responsible for decisions. Skeen clearly hadn’t got the memo.
Fiji cleared their lines but it wasn’t long before Scotland were putting the Fiji defence under pressure again. A high tackle on Russell, which probably warranted a red card given World Rugby’s tweets earlier in the day about what they would be clamping down on, gifted Scotland a penalty and Hogg kicked to touch. Again Scotland’s maul went on the march before breaking up, WP Nel eventually dotting down but losing control of the ball in the process of scoring. Andrew Brace went back for an earlier Fijian infringement and had a long chat with captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu. Another line out. Another maul. Another penalty. This time Uncle Big Naks was the offending party and was sent to the sidelines for a long hard think.
This time Scotland opted for the scrum against Fiji’s depleted pack, inevitably the scrum collapsed and a penalty was awarded, Scotland again opting for the Scum. The second scrum was reset with both front rows popping up. At the third time of asking the ball emerged from the base of the scrum with Laidlaw whipping the ball to Russell who floated a long pass to Seymour sending him in for his first try of the afternoon. Grieg Laidlaw did as Grieg Laidlaw does.
Half-time: Scotland 21-17 Fiji
Scotland came out firing in the second half disrupting the Fijian defence and forcing a knock on. From the resulting scrum Laidlaw found Dunbar who found Strauss both of them punching big holes in the defence. Scotland went from touchline to touchline, the forwards making good ground with ball in hand before Laidlaw found Maitland who spun over the try line. Greig Laidlaw lined up the kick… you can guess the rest.
From the restart Scotland gathered and Horne kicked downfield. Fiji made hard work of getting out of their own 22 but soon found themselves rampaging up the BT Murrayfield pitch earning a penalty for offside. Ben Volavola’s kick was wide.
With Fiji restored to 15 players after 6 minutes of the second half, Alex Dunbar still managed to make a surging run up the pitch before finding Skinner who went on his own rampage before being taken down, seemingly by an arm to the face from Semi Talebula. Scotland ran through the phases before Fiji knocked on whilst attempting a strong counter ruck. Scotland won a penalty at the resulting scrum, and once more Hogg went to the corner. No maul this time but a series of carries saw Scotland make ground in Fiji’s 22 before Fiji won their own penalty when Scotland were caught holding on in the maul. Maybe Townsend was handing out fines for kicking for goal, Baa-Baas style, but it seemed an odd decision at that stage in the game, not to have taken the three points and extend the lead.
Scotland were soon back in the Fijian 22 and Russell struck a cross-field kick which almost found Hogg. The ball was carried back over the try line by Fiji resulting in a five-metre scrum to Scotland. From the scrum Russell found Horne who burst through the Fijian defence in a way a man of his stature has no business doing, especially against such meaty opposition. The ball was quickly recycled to Seymour who crashed over for his second. All of a sudden the three points Scotland had passed up earlier didn’t seem to matter anymore.
Despite the scoreline Fiji continued to threaten the Scottish defence before Ritchie won a penalty on the halfway line and Hogg, once again went to the corner. Scotland won the ball from the line out but Chris Harris lost the ball forward after a thumping hit from Eroni Vasiteri. Fiji won a penalty from the resulting kick but Volavola’s kick was short and gathered by Hogg. Scotland put the ball through hands with Chris Harris making a surging run before putting Seymour in for his third try. With Laidlaw off the pitch Hogg took over kicking duties but was not equal to his captain.
Josh Strauss – who had been on from midway through the first half after Matt Fagerson was injured – was carrying like a man given a second chance at life and asking serious questions of the Fijian defence. Once more Scotland found themselves in Fiji’s 22 with Sean Maitland almost putting Peter Horne in for a try with a ridiculous offload. Fiji were able to clear but a storm was coming.
Some say we were mad to dream that it might ever happen. Some said we were so busy working out if we could, we forgot to ask if we should. Hastings came on to replace Peter Horne and Russell shifted to 12. S***. JUST. GOT. REAL.
Any fears held by non-believers were soon cast aside. With Horne junior already on for Laidlaw, the combined madness did not cause the seas of the Scottish defence to part and a cheeky Russell chip through put Fiji under pressure, resulting in a Scotland scrum inside the Fiji 22. Maitland and Hastings both twisted and turned through Fijian tacklers before a series of short drives ended with Jamie Ritchie earning a well-deserved try at the base of the posts. Russell kicked an easy two points.
With 76 minutes gone the temptation for Scotland must have been to keep things tight and see out the game. But this was no ordinary Scotland. This was Scotland XS. The cats had been let loose in the rave and Scotland fans were tripping rugby balls. Russell found a gap in the Fijian defence inside Scotland’s own half following a Scottish scrum and sent Hastings in for a try in the corner. Russell kicked the two points at the death.
Fiji asked some real questions of Scotland’s defence in the first half, but as Grieg Laidlaw said in the post match press conference, Scotland did not panic and stuck to their game plan, confident it would see them through. Scotland’s superb form at Murrayfield will face a sterner test next week but for now Scotland fans can enjoy the fact the dream ticket of Horne, Hastings and Russell had come true. Too beautiful to die, too mad to live and perhaps never to be repeated. But like the Kennedy assassination, every Scotland fan will be able to say where they were when it happened.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
SRBlog Man of the Match: There were a number of players who put their hands up for man of the match including Jamie Ritchie who caused Fiji all manner of problems at the breakdown but the SRB man of the match was Sam Skinner who marked a surprising call-up with a superb debut causing Fiji problems in attack and defence.