It was just what we needed, and we are back in contention, after a magnificent performance from Scotland saw them claim exactly what was required, and subject Samoa to their first ever pointless performance at the World Cup.
The opening minutes saw Scotland putting in some dominant
tackles, forcing Samoa back behind the gainline, and once in possession, some
nice off-loading and a sumptuous wide pass from Sam Johnson sent Darcy Graham, “The
Prince of Hawick”, charging into Samoan territory.
Although Hogg (“The King of Hawick”?) was held up in the tackle with the try line in sight, Samoa’s exit kept the game in their half. Samoan replacement Josh Tyrell, on for captain Jack Lam as he went for an HIA, tackled Laidlaw without the ball, and the veteran scrum-half added another 3-points to his impressive career-haul.
In the opening quarter, the humid conditions we were expecting saw a number of slips and handling errors, with Scotland happy to put boot to ball in order to keep Samoa deep, negating their dangerous strike-runners.
But it was all very stop-start due to these handling errors, even Finn Russell, owner of some of the finest hands in world rugby, was struggling to keep the ball in his puppet-master mitts.
One nice move off the back of a scrum got Scotland deep, but the move faltered again with that last pass not quite being executed well enough.
Then came the magic. Maitland leapt like a salmon in mating season to claim Laidlaw’s box-kick on the right hand-side. Scotland spun the ball to attack down the left, and then Finn Russell, with penalty advantage, launched a sensational cross-field kick straight into the bread-basket of Maitland to claim his 13th try in international colours.
Gilchrist spilled the restart, but when Samoa themselves
knocked on and play became fractured, Scotland countered to devastating effect.
Russell was again the catalyst, stepping between two tight-five forwards and passing out the back of the hand to set Ritchie free. He passed to Laidlaw, who bounced off Nanai-Williams’ tackle attempt, and eventually realised he was free to take it home himself, whilst scouting for a team-mate to pass to.
Drop goals seem to be back in fashion this World Cup, and Stuart Hogg decided to enter himself into the “Drop Goal of the Tournament” competition alongside Lopez and Patchell, with an absolute peach from Samoa’s 10m line. 20-0 with only a couple of minutes to go in the first half.
Scotland had a chance to further extend their lead before the end of the half when Samoa kicked the restart out on the full. Gordon Reid an early replacement for the injured Alan Dell, earned the plaudits from his teammates when Samoa’s scrum crumbled. Hogg thumped it into the corner, Samoa conceded another two penalties when trying to stop mauls, but on the third attempt they managed to repel the attack.
Mission status: Primary objective: Win the damn game – progressing well. Secondary objective: score 4 tries – 50% complete.
An early moment of concern early in the second half came to an abrupt end when Samoa were penalised for an illegal clear-out, and when they threatened again, they lost control when in the Scotland 22. To compound matters for the Pacific Islanders, flanker Christopher Vui was then pinged for an offside tackle on Jonny Gray, allowing Hogg to thump it to halfway.
A dangerous shoulder-to-shin challenge on Gilchrist gave Scotland another penalty just 10m from the Samoan line right in the middle of the pitch, which was surprisingly not reviewed for the possibility for a yellow.
During that stoppage in play, Gilchrist himself was replaced by Cummings, and captain Stuart McInally, who was 100% for his arrows and had looked good in the loose, replaced by Fraser Brown.
Scotland, knowing they needed tries, opted for the scrum. Another penalty went to another scrum, but Finn’s final ball just had a bit too much zip for Graham to handle to hand Samoa the line-out.
Samoa went long on the throw, and great line-speed forced a pass back into goal and a scuffed kick to touch. Brown went close to scoring, but Samoa were gifting out penalties like it was Christmas. Winger Ed Fidow had entered the maul at the side, and after a chat with TMO Graeme Hughes, Pascal Gauzerre yellow carded Feddow and awarded a penalty try.
Russell and Hogg were kicking intelligently and accurately. Another
long-thrown Samoan line-out near their own line was snaffled, but Gordon Reid
knocked on agonisingly close to the try-line when it appeared that Samoa had
done illegal work at the breakdown.
In the 65th minute, entered Duncan Taylor for Sam Johnson and, more excitedly for me, even though I love Super Dunc, George “Horneito” Horne. You’re 27-0 points to the good, there’s a tiring defence and you want another score, it seems the wise move. (We’re also just one cat short of a super-rave with this line-up.)
The biggest threat to the secondary objective was now the clock. Samoa got themselves a penalty deep in Scotland’s 22, but inexplicably kicked it out in the goal-area, and another chance came Scotland’s way.
And finally, all objectives achieved. Maitland was all set to score his second, using the conditions to slide into the corner, until Fidow, already on a yellow after preventing Brown from scoring try number three, decided that a double-knee drop was an appropriate way to stop him. A despicable action, which led to his second yellow, and a second penalty try.
The last of the cats, Adam Hastings replaced the alpha-cat, the imperious Finn Russell, so we didn’t go “Full-cat Sonar festival”, but that could be the only personal complaint of the match. So much better than last week, better aggression from the reshuffled pack, and a massive swing in the points difference due to keeping Samoa scoreless, could be of huge significance.
SRBlog MOTM: It would be too easy to give it to Finn Russell or the clinical Sean Maitland, Jonny Gray was given the official nod, but I’m awarding it to Jamie Ritchie. From the off he led a much improved defensive effort, hitting his tackles and breakdowns with gusto. A few weeks ago on the podcast I said he’d made himself undroppable with his level of performances, and so it remains. A potential legend in the making.
Referee: Pascal Gauzerre (FFR)