Friday 6th September 2019
BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh
TV coverage – Premier Sports 1
(re-runs on FreeSports, Saturday 7th September at 10.00am and Sunday 8th September at 8.00pm)
Scotland have never lost a match at Murrayfield against a Tier 2 nation with the only blemish on an otherwise perfect record being a draw with Samoa in 1995. Of course, there was a rather embarrassing defeat on home soil against Tonga which took place at Pittodrie Stadium in Aberdeen but let’s not talk about that…
Record at Murrayfield v Tier 2 nations:
- Canada – P1 W1. Score 22-6
- Fiji – P4 W4. Average score 38-16
- Japan – P1 W1. Score 42-17
- Romania – P5 W5. Average score 36-8
- Samoa – P5 W4 D1. Average score 36-23
- Spain – P1 W1. Score 48-0
- Tonga – P1 W1. Score 43-20
- Uruguay – P1 W1. Score 43-12
- USA – P1 W1. Score 53-6
This will be Georgia’s first time in the capital to take on Scotland with the two sides’ previous encounter in this country taking place at Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park. With three trips to Landsdowne Road and one to the Millennium Stadium, the Georgians will have completed the set of the Celtic countries’ top primary stadiums. Will the other members of the Six Nations be so hospitable in future?
Key stats from Georgia v Scotland
In their last four matches there’s been a bit of a trend towards more kicking from Scotland. The 25 they put in against Georgia was the most against a Tier 2 side during the Townsend era (average 18 per game).
There were a couple of strands to this. Firstly Finn Russell was looking to control the territory and make sure any Georgian possessions were starting from their own half. There was also plenty of variety in the type of kicking to exploit space. A chip in the buildup to try number 2 and a grubber assist for try number 4 being the best examples.
There was even a bit more variation in the kickers. Russell was definitely leading things here but even Sam Johnson (who averages a kick every 415 minutes during his Glasgow career) was inspired to get in on the action. Although the less said about John Barclay’s attempt to kick ahead in attack the better!
With defences these days often so hard to break down Scotland look to be using their kicking game to find where the space is. It also has the potential to check the opposition rush and create more opportunity when not kicking. The key is Finn Russell’s decision-making. Can he choose the right time to kick or twist?
Tidy on turnovers
The quality of the opposition has to be factored in but Scotland had one of their better nights when it came to hanging on to the ball. For just the fifth time in the 26 matches of the Townsend era their turnover number was in single figures. The previous occasions were:
- Italy (2 times)
Clearly, most of these strong showings have come against less intense defences. The one that stands out is the Calcutta Cup match from 2018. Holding on to possession and minimising England’s chances to get their own attack going was a significant factor in that game for Scotland.
On the day the forwards were inspired; the backs were clinical; and there was also the small matter of being on Nigel Owens’ wavelength at the breakdown as well.
Conceding less than 10 turnovers could be key in the upcoming RWC. Ireland are possession-hogs so the longer Scotland can keep the ball the better. Samoa and Japan will both counterattack from anywhere and Gregor Townsend’s side cannot afford to cough the ball up cheaply.
One area that didn’t go so well against Georgia was discipline with Scotland conceding 12 penalties. Granted there was a bit of back and forth in the scrum but there were a few too many soft pens conceded in open play.
It’s something that has actually been very good in the Townsend era. Scotland have conceded less than 10 penalties in 15 of their 26 games over the last two and a bit years. Since the 2017 Summer Tour they’ve only picked up 3 yellow cards in 23 matches.
With Scotland looking to defend high up the pitch where teams can do less damage it’s crucial to avoid giving the opposition a free shot at getting into the 22 from unnecessary penalties in midfield.
Toony will expect his players to be able to read the refs and make good decisions about when to attack the breakdown. They’ll also need to be wary of tackle heights with the new decision-making framework on head contact in place. Get these things right and there could be another slight edge to be won on Scotland’s RWC opponents.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant 1: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant 2: Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)
A few years back M. Poite was a fiend for sin binning Scotsmen. John Barclay, Nick de Luca, Rory Lamont and Jim Hamilton were yellow carded in quick succession across 3 games at the start of this decade. Since then the dark blues’ relationship with the former plain-clothed detective has improved somewhat – although the penalty counts have been pretty borderline on occasion.
Scotland’s last 5 games with M. Poite in charge:
- 2015 – lost to England (A)
Penalties: 18 (For 8 – 10 Against)
- 2015 – beat Italy (H)
Penalties: 26 (For 14 – 12 Against)
Cards: Italy 2 YCs
- 2017 – beat Ireland (H)
Penalties: 16 (For 7 – 9 Against)
- 2018 – lost to South Africa (H)
Penalties: 17 (For 9 – 8 Against)
Cards: South Africa 1 YC
- 2019 – lost to Ireland (H)
Penalties: 13 (For 6 – 7 Against)
It’s a scratch side for sure but one which maybe gives the first hints of what the lineup will be for Scotland’s opening RWC fixture against Ireland in a little over 3 weeks.
The twin aims here look to be protecting the frontline players and to keep a couple of the potential squad replacements involved and in game shape with no competitive matches scheduled for Edinburgh or Glasgow until the end of the month.
There were late replacements for the 2015 RWC squad before and after the tournament began. None of the omitted players should be hitting the pub just yet.
Scotland: Blair Kinghorn, Tommy Seymour, Duncan Taylor, Sam Johnson, Darcy Graham, Adam Hastings, Ali Price; Gordon Reid, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray, Ryan Wilson (c), Jamie Ritchie, Blade Thomson.
Replacements: Grant Stewart, Allan Dell, Simon Berghan, Ben Toolis, Magnus Bradbury, George Horne, Peter Horne, Chris Harris