International rugby returned to a practically empty BT Murrayfield (no, John, I will not make a joke about Edinburgh’s average attendance here) and saw Scotland record a resounding victory over Georgia ahead of next weekend’s big 6 Nations encounter against the Welsh in Llanelli.
Blair Kinghorn got proceedings under way, and although Georgia claimed the ball relatively easily, Hamish Watson stripped possession almost instantly to set Scotland into their first attack.
Debutant Duhan van der Merwe showed his power to take Scotland into the 22, and although the Georgian defence did well to hold up multiple short-range phases, they eventually conceded a penalty for not rolling away.
Price took a quick tap, only for captain for the night Fraser Brown to slip as he sped towards the line, however Georgia impeded again as the forwards burrowed toward the whitewash. This time, Darcy Graham went for the quickly taken penalty and zoomed in past the sleeping Georgian defence.
Although the Georgians are noted for their scrummaging prowess, Scotland won a penalty on the first meeting of the front-rows, loosehead Mikheil Nariashvili penalised for hinging against Zander Fagerson, however Kinghorn missed touch with the penalty to slow Scotland’s quick-fire start.
Scotland then had two incursions towards the Georgian line but were unable to convert pressure into any points. Kinghorn showed the mercurial nature of his game with a weaving run in the first attack but questionable decision-making in the second, when he had human tank van der Merwe on his left.
Some scrappiness allowed Georgian openside Beka Saghinadze to hack forward and subsequently forcing Adam Hastings to knock the ball into touch just shy of the Scotland 22 which gave Georgia their first attacking set-piece platform, however when giant tighthead Lekso Kaulashvili broke away from the maul, two “David”s, in Ali Price and Darcy Graham, took down the “Goliath”, and Price clamped on to the ball to win a valuable turnover penalty.
Fraser Brown soon rumbled over from a maul after Kaulashvili had given away a blatant offside penalty, and Kaulashvili was again about to be penalised for offside only 5m from the line, but perhaps fortunately for him, Scotland finished off the move. Hamish Watson – mullet in full, splendid flow – dived in at the left corner for his fourth international try.
The big Georgian tighthead was then involved again, this time winning a penalty against Rory Sutherland in the scrum, but another valuable turnover penalty from an unlikely source came Scotland’s way when Ben Toolis arched his 6’ 8” frame over the ball.
The break in the play for the penalty to be taken, unfortunately saw Matt Fagerson leave the field injured, with Cornell du Preez replacing him.
Another Scotland penalty – with the advantage lasting an age this time – saw Scotland maul to within 5m, then win another penalty with the clock now two-minutes in the red. Brown again went for the tap and go charge, and although du Preez did get over the line, he couldn’t quite convince the ref that he had grounded the ball properly.
Half-time: Scotland 17 – 0 Georgia
We always know there’s a mistake in Scotland, and when Hastings spilled a fairly straight-forward punt, Georgia took advantage at the start of the second-half and reduced the deficit.
TMO Marius Mitrea had a look at the finish, but decided that scrum-half Lobzhanidze’s pass had only gone forward to winger Akaki Tabutsadze via Scott Cummings’ fingertips, before the Georgian winger stepped outside, and showed good power, to fend off van der Merwe before crossing.
Scotland looked to hit back instantly, and more concerted short-range play (perhaps a work-on ahead of next week’s battle against Wales) saw Zander Fagerson stripped of the ball as he went to cross the line, but another penalty had already been awarded – this time against centre Sharikadze – saw Hastings kick to touch, and Fraser Brown crossed for his 2nd of the night from the back of a maul. Both of Brown’s tries had seen Chris Harris and James Lang join the maul, so may be interesting to see if that tactic is used in future.
In the 55th minute, the moment many of us had been waiting for occurred: the return of Finn Russell. He replaced James Lang, who had a fairly efficient if unspectacular game, and won his 50th cap in the process. It’s a bit of a shame that Russell couldn’t be awarded the ovation usually reserved for such an occasion, so he celebration of his 100th better be spectacular. Also coming on at this break was an entirely new front-row, including Oli Kebble becoming the latest in the line of “Spring-Jocks”.
Russell got straight into the mix firing passes out either hand, Darcy Graham being dragged into touch just short of the line on the right, but Georgia kept on giving up penalties and letting Scotland practice their maul.
Where Brown had left off, Stuart “Rambo” McInally, landed, continuing the prolific run of hookers in Toony squads.
With quarter of an hour remaining, Georgia went to touch with a penalty 5m from the Scotland line, but more excitedly, George Horne came on, making a Horneito-Hastings-Russell play-making axis.
Georgia made a mess of their line-out which gave Scotland the put in at the scrum, and once the home-side had worked their way upfield, Finn gave his proposed tackler the eyes and flipped the pass inside to the onrushing van der Merwe.
As has been the case in the last few years with Edinburgh, when the words “onrushing” and “van der Merwe” are combined, it usually ends with a “try”, and so it was on the occasion of his Scotland debut.
A Ben Toolis midfield breenge of Thor’s-muscles-like proportions gave Scotland excellent field position and saw a yellow card dished out to Gela Aprasidze.
Although the maul was stopped this time, Darcy Graham couldn’t be when he took Horneito’s quickly recycled ball into the corner. Graham may have not seen a lot of the ball, but when he did, he made it count.
With barely a minute remaining, a howling error by Giorgi Kveseladze saw Kinghorn’s ambitious chip bounce between his legs, allowing Kinghorn the chance to regather and further embellish the score to 48-7.
Comfortable and professional in victory, tougher fixtures lie ahead, but there was enough to be happy with in the performance, particularly amongst the forwards, where Georgia usually excel.
SRBlog Player of the Match: Bar getting slipped for the Georgia try, Duhan showed what a threat he’ll be with a thistle on his chest, Watson was as effervescent as usual, Russell was a point of difference in his appearance, but Scott Cummings showed why he’s been picked for the last 13 games in a row. He offers more going forward than the other locks, has solid set-pieces and still goes about the defensive side of the game.
Referee: Alex Ruiz (FFR)