Scotland finished off their RWC 19 warm-up matches with a rather lacklustre first hour, but ran out comfortable winners against a spirited Georgia side, who will have given defence coach Matt Taylor a thing or two to think about tweaking before the big kick-off in just over a fortnight.
After an equal trading of conceded but scoreless penalties in the opening minutes, Scotland had a great opportunity to open their account in the 12th. They attacked with real pace and venom off of a line-out, but Kinghorn’s out the side-door pass was fumbled by the usually predatorial Seymour with the try-line beckoning.
The opening of the account was not short in coming though. After Kinghorn fielded a kick from Georgian stand-off Abzhandadze, he fed turbo-kid Darcy Graham down the left. Graham popped the ball inside to Sam Johnson, who straightened up and carried into contact before off-loading to scrum-half Ali Price for a simple run-in.
Georgia reduced the deficit with a penalty from the boot of Abzhandadze, but Scotland were soon on the scoreboard again.
A lovely break from fleet-footed, luminously-gnashered Adam Hastings set Scotland on their way, Scott Cummings barrelled on, and with the Georgian defence in disarray and having conceded a penalty, Hastings kicked to Graham. The winger had to check his to run to gather, but Kinghorn was on hand to help out his club teammate and dive over.
Abzhandadze (I have never been more grateful for the “copy” and “paste” functions) reduced the deficit again after Jamie Ritchie was rather harshly penalised for not rolling away, at which point Chris Harris came on as a replacement for Blair Kinghorn. The initial call on the ref mic stated it was a blood replacement, but Kinghorn was not to return. The reshuffle saw Seymour go to full-back with Harris go onto the right-wing.
A cheaply conceded penalty by George Turner allowed Abzhandadze to reduce the deficit to a solitary point, when Georgia had posed no considerable threat to Scotland’s try-line.
A series of disrupted scrums saw Poite’s patience ran out with Fagerson and Nariashvilli, who both went off for a seat on the naughty step. Both sides replaced flankers with new props, Scotland bringing on Simon Berghan, who will of course be travelling to Japan as a double-headed prop.
Georgia looked like they would take a shock lead after a brilliant weaving run by Matiashvili took him up to 5m of the Scotland try-line, but Hastings managed to intercept his attempted pass and clear the danger.
A scrappy first-half came to an end with a tale of two line-outs for Scotland. One, in a good attacking position, just on the 22, was stolen, and the second, a quickie taken by Ali Price, saw Scotland run through a couple of phases before a wasteful knock-on.
Half-time: Scotland 10-9 Georgia
The second half started without Jonny Gray, but did continue with the scrappiness and cheap penalties of the first. Straight from kick-off, Scotland were pinged and Georgia began a brief spell of possession and territory dominance. Full-back Matiashvili again looked dangerous as he broke the Scottish line, but Scotland held firm until Georgian lock Mikautadze was penalised for entering at the side of a ruck.
When Scotland were able to gain possession and keep it for any period of time, they were making metres with relative ease, and even despite Dzneladze’s cynical foul on Graham with Scotland camped on the Georgian line, Sam Johnson eventually breached their defences to make it 17-9. Dzneladze’s foul also saw him become the third man of the night to take a 10min break by order of the Poite.
There then followed a 10-minute or so period of what can only be described as honking rugby. Fagerson, who repeatedly fell foul of the officials all evening, was hooked for Berghan, as scrum after scrum, which only occurred because of knock-on after knock-on, went to the deck.
Whilst the mediocrity continued, Ben Toolis, who had replaced Gray, had to go off for an HIA after taking an accidental straight arm to the face, therefore causing further second-row concern for Townsend, who has already lost Sam Skinner to injury, and back-up plan Richie Gray to a newborn baby.
A bright spark eventually emerged. Scotland won a scrum penalty, went to the corner rather than take an easy 3-pointer, and after switching from left to right and back again, Darcy Graham crossed for yet another try in international colours. Notable mention to Chris Harris, who had done well to draw in the last two defenders and release Graham in acres of space.
The sometimes, unfairly in my eyes, maligned Adam Hastings, was having a pretty good outing, and it was his fleet of foot rather than boot to foot, which created Scotland’s next score. He danced between 3 Georgian defenders, and when the ruck was formed, his half-back partner George “Horneito” Horne picked up from the base, and found space round the side to scamper away right between the sticks, which he then converted himself.
Not little, but Big Horne, then helped himself to a try after stand-off Abzhandadze tried to channel his inner-Finn and dink a kick over the top from his own try-line. Unfortunately for him he only succeeded in finding Horne the Elder, who had time to gather the kick, pick himself up, dust himself off, take a selfie and complete a cryptic crossword before running in. In the end it looks very comfortable, but for long periods it was at times indisciplined, at others just a bit sloppy. Hopefully Gray was only taken off as a precaution, with 40mins of game time finally under his belt, Kinghorn’s may just be superficial, but the biggest concerns will be over Toolis and Ritchie.
Referee: Romaine Poite
Attendance: not 67,000.
SRBlog Man of the Match: my inner-Warrior wants to give it to Scott Cummings, he made a couple of bullocking runs and was exceptional in the line-out, as we’ve come to expect, but Darcy Graham with his electric pace, never say die defence and predatory finishing takes the honours this time. Whether he or Seymour starts against Ireland is a toss of the coin.