Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland 60 – 14 Tonga

Scotland v Tonga

A bunch of new faces with caps upon their heads gave Gregor Townsend a few tough choices to make for next week, as Scotland racked up the points against the cruelly underprepared visitors from the Pacific Islands.

Darcy Graham’s twinkle-toes from the unusual position of full-back started causing bother within the first few seconds, and the tenacious terrier took a fair scud when he tried to chip over the top of James Faiva, and then Tonga showed their threat and power when George Turner’s first arrow went astray.

Playing with penalty advantage after a high-tackle by Sione Tuipoloto, the Tongans burst through midfield via Loni Uhila, and when he dished it wide to recent Glasgow Warrior’s signing Walter Fifita, the big winger sat down Graham to show that although they may be a touch under-prepared after only a few days together, they have pace, power and inate skills.

Scotland weathered that storm by winning a turnover just short of their try-line, and then when the ball went loose in midfield off Jamie Ritchie, speed merchant Rufus McLean picked up the ball and engaged the afterburners to burst to the line for a try within 8mins of his international debut. When McLean gets tackled gold rings fall out him.

Tonga winger Atu Manu then nearly collected a cross-kick for what would have been a wonderful try, but Faiva took 3-points as consolation from the penalty.

McLean scored a spectacular second with a step and boost from first-phase ball off the line-out, no part in thanks to a cracking pass by stand-off for the day Blair Kinghorn. The Edinburgh man – who I didn’t slag, (this week anyway) blame those other guys on the podcast – knocked over the conversion to make it 14-3.

Faiva scored another penalty before Kinghorn had a bit of a scare with a near intercept but Scotland had been playing with knock-on advantage, so once another debutant, the loose-head prop(er pioneer) had got a shove on, it was quickly shifted to the right wing for Kyle Steyn to dive over in the right corner.

A third penalty from Faiva -this time from a fair distance after Rob Harley was pinged for not rolling away from a ruck – took the scores closer, but Kinghorn’s skyscraping restarts had been causing confusion and after another penalty had been awarded, Scotland were soon over the try-line again through Schoeman.

Scotland were scoring whenever they had the ball, and once again it was first-phase off the line-out and Steyn got his second with an angled run through a disorganised Tongan defence.

Steyn completed his hat-trick after the ridiculously quick and dangerous McLean, had zoomed down the right-wing, Graham took it on further and Kinghorn’s cross-kick bounced fortuitously into his hands for a healthy half-time lead.

Half-time: Scotland 36 – 9 Tonga

Scotland seemed intent on playing at only 100mph which led to a few errors on both sides of the ball, but the only surprise was how long it took them to add to the scoreboard given the way they’d racked up the points in the first period.

This time it was from the line-out as Turner threw to Hodgson, and Turner made it 7 tries from 18 games with a simple maul-over.

Referee Nic Berry let Tonga away with a rather skew-whiff throw which put pressure on Scotland, and after a warning to Ali Price it was Rob Harley who impeded at a tap-and-go charge from the visitors, so the Warriors’ stalwart took a took a ten-minute rest.

David Lolohea provided the last bit of muscle as Tonga crossed the line for the first time of the match as we approached the hour mark, which signalled the entry of Ross Thompson for his debut with Kinghorn moving back to his natural position of full-back.

Tonga’s Aisea Halo saw a yellow-card for a clumsy aerial challenge on McLean which ended his match with Marshall Sykes coming on, and then a huge, borderline – and possibly not – legal hit by Mateaka Kafatolu on Sam Johnson gave Tonga a counter-attack which was stopped in the 22 when Ritchie and Luke Crosbie did enough to disrupt the breakdown.

An off-load which Leone Nakawara would have been proud of by captain Jamie Ritchie deserved the first-time finish by Sam Johnson, but although he was held up just shy of the line, Nick Haining finished the move off.

Stuart McInally had thrown himself about a fair bit since coming on for George Turner, and although he wasn’t able to cross the whitewash Oli Kebble did, having come on at tight-head rather than his regular position on the other side of the front-row, and then with the clock in the red, the lethal Kyle Steyn once again was on hand to finish after the Glasgow young bucks of Dobie and Thompson had gone outside-to-in.

A confidence building bucket of points and a bunch of new caps who impressed, but they’ll have to push hard in training to get into the 23 once the non-Scots based players are integrated into the squad.

Referee: Nic Berry (RA)

SRB Player of the Match: Who else could it be but Kyle Steyn, the first Scot to score 4 tries in a Test match since Gavin Hastings tore the Ivory Coast apart at World Cup 95, he also chased kicks like a demon and was solid in defence.

41 Responses

  1. We only played a poorly prepared Tonga…but…Wales still look poor against NZ. Their handling and creativity is soo poor. Still can’t believe they managed to win the 2021 6N…what an ordinary side.

    1. Slag off the Welsh all you like…I wont disagree. However they got the chance to play NZ at home while we played a half-strength Tonga team. Influence.

  2. Game went fairly flat during the third quarter when hoping we would really push on, though there were a number of changes. Graham definitely not a FB, thought Kinghorn did ok at 10 with a couple of great bits of skill but really a backup option only. Thought Hodgson did quite well, Harley just not international class. Some headaches for Toony in terms of selection in the back three, would like to see Scott at 12 and likely Harris at 13 for Aus. And yes, Wales look really poor!

    1. IMO ..I’m not sure we have a place for Darcy G. against the top sides… Steyn, Duhan and McLean all look better defensively whilst are all great in attack also. Its a shame but he’s just too slight and also gets caught positionally too often.
      Kinghorn is a back up for 15 and 10… I cant seem him as a 1st choice starter. He’s a good skillful player on his day… but he is erratic sometimes and he lost his way a bit in the second half. Needs to improve his goal kicking.

      Im not sure who is best bet at 12 Sione, Scott and Johnson all offer something different. Harris is a stick on for 13 against the top sides…hes by far the best defender out of our centre options. The way rugby has gone defense through the midfield is critical.

      1. Yeah don’t really think 15 is Darceys place. He got a few big clatters. Thought Kinghorn was ok but that’s all. Couple of fantastic pieces of skill, Finn would have been proud of a pass like that one for the first try, but was out of position / rushed out of the line defensively a few times and the kicking wasn’t great. Certainly not bad though, I wouldn’t cringe at the thought of him playing there and having someone who can cover well is never a bad thing.

        Not to be negative but can’t get too excited about wingers running in tries against poor opposition, were never really tested in defence. McLean’s step for his first try was a peach though. Thought Richie and big Schuman looked good and Price was snappy. Looks like we are trying the high tempo strategy again, no messing about at lineouts. Thought Mish was a bit quiet but don’t think he’s played much recently?, but did lol at the commentator referring to him as “pinball”.

        Wales are mince, how do we keep letting them win stuff?

      2. Interesting comment about Graham Ruggers.. with the world cup less than two years away now, it’s interesting to look at the 33 players world cup squad Toony is going to have to pick from, certainly a lot of good players are going to miss out.

        Here is my prediction at what the squad is will be.

        Outbacks: Stuart Hogg, Duhan Van Der Merwe, Kyle Steyn, Darcy Graham
        Centre: Cameron Redpath, Matt Scott, Chris Harris, Mark Bennett
        Fly-Half: Finn Russell, Adam Hastings, Blair Kinghorn
        Scrum-half: Ali Price, Ben Vellacott, Jamie Dobie

        BackRow: Hamish Watson, Rory Darge, Jamie Ritchie, Matt Fagerson, Magnus Bradbury, Nick Haining
        Lock: Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray, Sam Skinner, Richie Gray, Grant Gilchrist
        Hooker: George Turner, Stuart McInally, Johnny Matthews
        Props: Pierre Schoeman, Rory Sutherland, Oli Kebble, Zander Fagerson, Simon Berghan

      3. I think there is a reasonable chance we could see some or all of the following youngsters break into that World Cup squad of yours Neil: Ewan Ashman, Cameron Henderson, Gregor Brown, Ben Muncaster, Ross Thompson, Rufus Maclean.

        I also think it is a very long shot that either Matt Scott or Mark Bennett will make the cut, Sam Johnson is clearly ahead of the former and Sione and Huw Jones offer more options than Bennett as both cover multiple positions.

        Also the squad limit was extended to allow two full sets of props but you’ve only included 5.

      4. I agree with FF. Johnson is playing well and doing lots of unheralded work. I think he and Redpath will be the 12 choice subject to injury. In terms of 13 I would put Harris and Jones and even Steyn ahead of Bennett who hasnt been part of Townsends favourites since he went to the Olympics.

      5. Darcy: I though he was adequate. From what I saw, his fast feet caused problems, he tackled well, was in position to take his tackles, his entry to the line was the difference in one of our tries and much as he didn’t get a lot of high ball, what he got ,he caught and distributed. We never saw much of his boot , however it will not even match Hogg. If you take his size out of it and our natural preference for Hogg, he ticked a box. If he had more exposure at club level, we might see him differently. We just don’t have a natural fullback that can get close to matching Hogg. We are going to need to find a stand in , this next world cup will be tough.

  3. Notice Russell hasn’t been starting for Racing 92 for 2-3 games….either he’ll be out of form rusty or fresh when he joins up.

    1. What has Hutchinson done wrong – generally ranked as one of the best centres in England by their pundits.

    2. You’re correct-and I see he’s again listed on the bench for Racing tonight against Toulouse.Possibly just too much rugby as he had a much shorter break after the Lions tour than anyone else.
      Conversely quite happy if he only has to play 20 mins or so tonight given we’ll be wanting him to stasrt next Sunday against Oz.
      (And on Steyn I wonder if he’s probably jumped ahead of Hew Jones for a bench spot? And possibly pushing Graham hard for a starting place in light of his superior defence.)

  4. Great opportunity and many took it. Well done Scotland.

    Random but is Tom English ok? Missing his chat and posts.

  5. Thoroughly enjoyed the match – a barrow load of tries , which has to be confidence building for the team. OK not a stern test, but it got the international careers of a number of players going. I would suggest getting players like Kinghorn and Graham into their usual positions though.

    I enjoyed the Prime coverage and thought it was great for once that the entire presentation/punditry team was Scottish and we got an entire half hour before the match and the analysis afterwards devoted to Scotland and the actual match. No Inverdale, Guscott, whoever going on about England, Ireland, or Wales’ prospects.

  6. For me the kinghorn. International experiment is over based predominantly on his tendency to miss overlaps and go for glory. He’s clearly athletic and at times good with the ball hand but I don’t think he’s got a good rugby brain, that’s not changing anytime soon.

    1. Yeah, have to agree. Against limited opposition he was afforded time you simply won’t get against the best teams, yet he still looked rushed and hesitant off anything other than first phase ball. A bit worrying to see how badly Darcy Graham was exposed in defence – plenty of courage, but poor technique when faced with big powerful runners – SA and Aus will expose that ruthlessly so for me it has to be Steyn and VDM on the wing this week. I think Johnson and Harris will be first names on the teamsheet in the midfield, but I like idea of putting Tuipolotu on the bench to cover both 12 and 13. Was a very impressive debut for Hodgson and would be good to see him against a more streetwise pack to really see what he’s got. McNally’s darts were woeful when he came on – he really needs to get that sorted out. I’d be happier to see Ashman on the bench.

  7. Kinghorn made one good – not great, it dipped a wee bit short – for one try. he also fluffed a couple of similar ones and was v lucky not to give a way an intercept try. There was one factor at play which neither Russell not Hastings suffer from. They can make those passes off both hands

  8. I really liked the Steyn performance yesterday. I think its the most complete wing performance I’ve seen from Scotland for a long time, irrespective of the opposition. His work off the ball was very good, popping up all over the place. Kick chase was very good. Catching was good. Positional awareness was very good. Tackling was good. 4 tries were all good. I especially liked the lines he was running and the pace he was running them at. You could see he’d played quite a bit at 13 with the other Glasgow backs and had a good understanding of the lines to run to split the defense. He’d be very unlucky if we didnt see him in Blue again this autumn.

    1. interesting take Al.
      I doubt Steyn has played 13 with any of the Glasgow backs bar Price. That said I think its his best position. When Glasgow did play him there (in preference to Huw Jones and Nick Grigg) he was superb. Odd Townsend sees Kinghorn as a 10 and Kebbe as a tight head, but can’t see what Steyn would bring at 13. Defence up there with Harris, but more pace and much much better running lines and hands

      1. He must train everyday with the other Glasgow backs and seems to have a good understanding with Johnson and Thompson. I was also thinking about the last try where he popped up inside Thompson on a lovely line. Overall great stuff, 4 tries and hardly anyone came close to tackling him. Bit of an embarrassment of riches on the wing at Glasgow this season with everyone fit.

        Has Maitland had his last game for Scotland? Been a good servant if he has!

  9. I think the highlight of the Amazon prime coverage was the Scottish commentator speaking in fluent Tongan as he said their players’ names during the game. He was also able to switch to a French accent when saying words such as ‘debutants’. Very impressive.

    1. Don’t know if this was meant to be sarcastic or not but a commentator making an effort to pronounce players name properly is just basic respect in my book. Overcooking the pronunciation or accent can be a bit cringe worthy but not as bad as some big name commentators who consistently pronounce players names wrong and make no effort. Thinking specifically of our friend and Zander “Ferguson”.

  10. Team for Australia?

    Hogg, Steyn, Harris, Johnson, VDM, Russell, Price, Schoeman, Turner, Z Fagersen, Gilchrist, Skinner, Ritchie, Watson, M Fagersen.

    Subs: McInally, Sutherland, Kebble, Hodgson, Haining, Horne, Hastings, Tuipulota.

    1. JK, think you’ve chosen our strongest 15 available. Tough on Graham and McLean but hopefully they get game time vs Japan. Would also like to see Thompson come off the bench once more.

      1. For me, bitter as I am , Scotland need to annihilate Japan. Field our strongest team and show them no mercy.

      2. @Bassrock – even with our best side out we are not going to annihilate Japan. They are a quality side, well organised with talented players.

        We must win to come out of the series in credit, but Japan are too good for us to expect a thrashing..

      3. FF: Thanks for reminding me of the obvious, you never fail when it comes to telling your grandfather how to have kids. It is implicit that we will need to play our best side which was my underlying point.

        Yes I do think we need to show much improvement on our RWC encounter, and I will make no apology for that.

        They beat us soundly in Japan , knocked us out of the pool and as a consequence have a tough job getting out of the pool in the Next RWC. Our RWC in Japan is likely to set us back years . I would be disappointed if GT experiments in the Japan game , arguably that is why we looked like a rudderless , disillusioned ship in Japan and they rightly sent us home.

    2. Unless Horne was injured for yesterday then Dobie should be on the bench.

      If he wasn’t, it’s disgraceful that he wasn’t given a start. You have to blood your reserve nines more often otherwise they’re cold when you need them.

    3. Think I might have another back three player in place of Tuipulota on the basis that Steyn can cover centre better than Johnson, Harris or Tuipulota can cover back three. Tough call on whether that would be Maclean or Graham, possibly the latter.
      Wasn’t sure about Kebble covering TH but seemed to do OK and if he fully converts, that would give a much better balance to our front row options. Not at all convinced by Berghan, I think his height might hinder his scrummaging.

    4. JK – Man for man that is exactly the team I would pick as well, so there’s no chance we’re both right.
      We’re only really injury affected in the 2nd row, yet Skinner and Gilchrist were first rate in Paris and Hodgson really put in a shift against Tonga.
      Australia have improved but so have we, could be a great match. Anyone going?

      1. My two brothers are going on Sunday. Up there myself for the SA game.

        Our record against the Wallabies in recent years has been pretty decent and I’m hopeful that it can continue.

        Aussies should be in good shape having played a full Rugby Championship recently. I just wonder how ready we will be for Test rugby. At least most of the likely 23 have a few club games under their belts.

      2. This may be the toughest match of the tour. Australia just recently beat SA back to back…
        I think we’ll be too rusty for this one…and can see us losing by a fair margin.
        To just turn up against one of the top form sides in rugby and play to max form…optimistic to say the least.
        Stranger things have happened tho…

  11. McClean left D’arcy out to dry a few times by not running a screening line when D’arcy was under a high ball left him completely exposed to get smashed by big Tongans.

  12. Love all the comments. No analysis, no insight, no evidence, great enjoyment reading the comments cheers everyone

  13. DVM had an excellent game for Worcester at the weekend. Working alongside an unselfish fullback scored 2 tries and was visible looking for work and in the pack mauling with the best of them. Bodes well, what will he be like when he gets back with Hogg.

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