Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Rugby World Cup Pool B: Scotland 45-17 Tonga

Scotland vs Tonga
Scotland vs Tonga - graphic © Scottish Rugby Blog


2023 Rugby World CupSun 24th Sep 2023Stade de Nice, NiceKick-off: 4:45 pm (UK)45-17


Referee: Karl Dickson (RFU)| TV: ITV1/STV

This game began in the particularly bruising fashion you would expect from Tonga, but Blair Kinghorn set the tone early for Scotland with a searing kick chase that lit up the Stade de Nice. He narrowly mis-timed his dive and grounded it before the line, missing out on the try – but it signalled the Scottish intent to play fast as often as they could.

However, Scotland’s first try came from that old ally, the rolling maul. This one from a penalty kicked to touch that rumbled from nearly the 22 all the way over the line. Whereas against South Africa the set piece misfired badly, against the Pacific Islanders things worked a lot better, and when it was well executed they had no real defence.

When the ball was spun wide – as usual this was a regular occurrence – Finn Russell was combining well with Kinghorn and Kyle Steyn on the right wing, but it wasn’t constantly going out that far; Finn managed the situation with careful kicks, including an excellent 50:22 that stopped Scotland’s play from getting too hectic.

That’s not to say it was all marvellous though, as Scotland committed several errors whilst in possession in the Tongan 22 that really should have been converted into points.

They paid for their lapses in concentration when Tonga took their own chance in Scotland’s half and Salesi Piutau flipped a lovely offload to Solomone Kata who sprinted in at the corner. With an earlier penalty already in the bank, William Havili’s touchline conversion put Tonga into the lead after 20 minutes.

Scotland’s response was quick and simple, after a late hit on Kyle Steyn’s ribs was brought to the attention of referee Karl Dickson. Russell kicked for touch and from the lineout, while the maul stalled this time the ball went out to Sione Tuipulotu at first receiver, who sneaked it back to his standoff. Russell flung a lovely pass to Kinghorn at full tilt in space. The big fullback drew the last defender and put Duhan van der Merwe over in the corner.

Steyn added to his tally against this particular opposition with another try very similar in nature on the other flank; a Russell pass picking out the runner in space and almost ushering them through a gap that Tonga could do nothing to close.

When Scotland were patient, Tonga had almost no answer, but when Tonga got impatient, Blair Kinghorn took a late shot from Vaea Fifita, and seconds later Jamie Ritchie’s head went the way of Kyle Steyn’s ribs. That particular dangerous head shot by the winger Afusipa Taumeoepaeu resulted in an HIA for Ritchie, a yellow card for the Tongan and a bunker referral that it seemed certain would incur an upgrade to a red card.

Unlike the Tongan winger, the Scotland captain would not return to the pitch.

A great tactical kick from Ben White saw Piutau bundled into touch in his own half, and Scotland with a final opportunity for an attack and the bonus point before half-time. Hard carries from Chris Harris, Tuipulotu and Jack Dempsey came close but the brutal tackling kept them out.

In light of this, the Scots opted for a scrum to try and create more space. Both packs made a hash of it, but it created enough chaos that Rory Darge could scuffle over unopposed in the aftermath and secure the bonus point that the Ireland v South Africa result the night before had made so necessary.

Half-time: Scotland 24-10 Tonga

The yellow was deemed (irrationally) to have had a mitigating dip in height from Ritchie which meant that Tonga were soon restored to 15 men, while Ritchie sat forlorn on the bench. The men in red made the most of this fillip with a try just minutes into the half, coming from a poor clearance from his own goal line by Russell that didn’t escape the 22 for long. Scotland defence coach Steve Tandy might see it differently, but skipper Ben Temaifuna was unstoppable from close range after Kata got him close.

Despite the bonus point securely in the bag, Scotland still didn’t look entirely in control.

As the benches emptied, replacement Pierre Schoemann made an instant impact in the set piece despite Rory Sutherland having a generally good game at loosehead. But it was Duhan who took the game by the scruff of the neck though, the big winger throwing off several Tongan tacklers like rag-dolls before finding George Horne in a few feet of space that almost wasn’t there just outside him.

It was the response Scotland needed to shut the door on the Tongan fight back.

Scotland were suddenly making the most of their chances, with Kinghorn finally getting a try of his own, cutting a lovely line on another training ground strike move. He could have had another but for a superb covering tackle by centre Pita Ahki.

There were plenty of less impressive tackles that continued to escape the notice of the officials, but Vaea Fifita finally saw yellow for his latest effort, a pretty cheap shot on Finn Russell who was trapped in a ruck.

Scotland cut slightly frustrated figures by the end as they were unable to really make the most of clear advantages in the game and score more points – there’s still a chance they will count towards points difference, however unlikely it seems that South Africa can’t score four tries against the same opposition.

With the last play of the game, Horne set replacement Darcy Graham loose well into his own half and the winger cut loose to score a memorable solo try worthy of his considerable highlight reel.

For World Rugby’s disciplinary process it remains to be seen whether entertainment or player safety is the priority at this World Cup, but for Scotland at least it was a job done and onwards to Romania next weekend; another 5-point win is a requirement.

SRBlog Player of the Match: Duhan had a big impact at times, while Finn had a far more assured game than the one against South Africa, but the core of taking the Scottish gameplan to Tonga was the man with a shared heritage, Sione Tuipulotu. Carried hard, was immense in defence and played a key role in many of the strike moves that cut Tonga open almost on demand.

9 Responses

  1. Sorry to be negative but am I the only one a bit disheartened by last nights performance? On the face of it, it should be good, bonus point secured before half time and never in any danger of losing the game. We were scrappy, way too many knock ons and stupid penalties given away and not enough physicality at the breakdown. We carried well so there was plenty of physicality but when going forward I thought our ruck speed was slow. Line out still looks shoogly, a few where we only just secured the ball, backline not great at all under the high ball. If we have intentions on going further in the tournament we need to be putting the lesser teams to the sword like Ireland and SA have and not merely winning well but leaving a lot out there.

  2. I reckon George Horne could win the ‘pass-the-parcel’ World Cup for us..with a bp…but the the rugby one?..he needs to be on from the start.

  3. I’d like to see Horne, Russell, Redpath, Jones combine for the Romania match. If all going well bring on Healy at HT. Kinghorn to start and hopefully he gets tested on some high balls with Smith coming on at HT. Rest Tuipulotu. White, Smith and any winger on the bench.

    Good to give Redpath a run and with open play likely he should fit in well and give Tuipulotu time to recharge before a physical encounter.

    Play the first choice pack for the FH for further match practice in an attempt to iron out some of the glaring errors and keep momentum going. Sebastian, Crosbie and Watson to get some game time.

  4. My team for Romania: Goal = 100+ points

    Healy – Graham – Steyn – Redpath – Van Der Merwe – Russell (C) – Horne – Fagerson – Watson – Crosbie – Cummings – Skinner – Sebastian – Matthews – Sutherland

    Kinghorn – Jones – Price – Dempsey – Gilchrist – Fagerson – Schoeman – Ashman

    Small but fast pack. Lots of speed, power and Boot in the backline. Redpath, Healy, Russell to set up the likes of Steyn, Graham, VDM. Impact of Bench so standard Increases instead of decreasing.

  5. Anyone else bemused that Fifita gets a 2 match reduction for remorse having said he didn’t feel what he did met the red card threshold?

    I also don’t see how the hit on Ritchie wasn’t upgraded to a red on review as it was clear, obvious and always dangerous and had a worse outcome.

    Seems like the outcomes from dangerous tackles is just a lottery now.

    1. There have definitely been a few odd decisions coming back out of the bunker but I think it’s been largely consistent aside from the two Scottish decisions, which seems one-eyed but there we are. Don’t expect the disciplinary panel system to start making sense any time soon though.

    1. An absolute mullering………. They stepped up several levels…and looked like they could go up a few more… I bet Ireland wish they had lost to SA now. Id rather play France than NZ should Scotland progress.

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