It could certainly be said that Scotland were dealt a bad hand when you consider the Pool B draw combined with its scheduling. But it’s all about controlling the controllables, so coaches say, and the possibility remains that Gregor Townsend’s men will play their unforgiving cards remarkably well. This sunny, satisfying victory against game opponents on the Côte D’Azur means another bonus-point win, against Romania in Lille next Saturday, will set up a decisive clash against Ireland in Paris on October 7th.
On this sort of form Scotland will back themselves to have a strong chance, at the very least, of surviving the pool of death. To the considerable credit of all concerned they looked like a team who had two weeks of constructive warm-weather training in the tank after the opening loss against South Africa. Prompted by their uniquely gifted outhalf Finn Russell, passes were fizzed around with abandon and the dirty work, at the breakdown and set-piece,. was done plenty well enough to give their talented back division a platform. Seven Scotland tries were scored and it could easily have been more.
Tonga were just as physical as expected, and indeed controversially avoided a first-half yellow card for Afusipa Taumoepeau being upgraded to red for a high hit on Jamie Ritchie, before Vaea Fifita was also shown a yellow card, upgraded to red via bunker review, for another high hit late in the second half. Regardless only a miracle can now save Toutai Kefu’s team from elimination, with matches against South Africa and Romania to come.
The sound of bagpipes had echoed around the city through the morning, thousands of Scottish fans showing a friendly determination to enjoy their day in the sun. Blair Kinghorn almost got them off to a flier too when sprinting under the posts after a clever kick from deep, but knocked the ball on. Tonga were soon punished for offside and when Russell belted a kick for the corner, a powerful lineout drive allowed George Turner to flop over. Russell converted.
William Havili’s penalty reduced the 7-0 deficit after Rory Sutherland was penalised for collapsing a scrum, and the Pacific Islanders were competing hard. Ben White’s dart after Russell’s brilliant 50-22 saw him turned over, a good chance wasted. That allowed Solomone Kata, the former Exeter wing who is headed for Leicester, to cross on the right wing following a crushing carry by Halaleva Fifita. Havili stroked the conversion through the posts and it was suddenly a three-point advantage for Kefu’s men.
The trick, as Italy demonstrated against Uruguay here last week, is to stick to the plan even when the scoreboard isn’t looking too clever. Tonga continued to batter into tackles, with Duhan van der Merwe and Chris Harris coming in for muscular treatment. Havili, the Tonga No 10, was penalised for a no-arms tackle and a beautiful sequence of passes sent Van der Merwe over. It was a nerve-settling score to restore Scotland’s lead, although Russell struck the conversion wide.
Kyle Steyn then got in on the act on the opposite wing, barging his way through a couple of indifferent tackles on the edge of the 22 and goose-stepping across the line for the third. This time Russell sent the conversion against the upright, but it was a seven-point lead.
Jamie Ritchie, the Scotland captain, was the target of a reckless barge to the head by Taumoepeau. The referee, Karl Dickson, showed a yellow and asked for a bunker review. There was a hint of Ritchie diving into it but the subsequent decision not to upgrade to red will be hotly debated.
Rory Darge capitalised on more indifferent defending when he wriggled through to score under the posts with the first-half clock in the red. The first part of Scotland’s mission, an attacking bonus point, was complete by half time.
Job done? Not so fast. Russell cracked a clearing kick straight down the throat of Kata soon after the break and when another bullocking run by the wing punched a hole in the Scots’ defence, the captain Ben Tameifuna smashed over, and Havili converted to bring Kefu’s side within seven points.
A 50-22 by Charles Piutau soon had Scotland backpedalling again but the Pacific Islanders again failed to turn promising situations into sustained pressure.
George Horne danced over in the corner seconds after coming on, creating reassuring daylight on the board from Scotland’s perspective. Kinghorn and then Darcy Graham added further scores in the final quarter. It was comfortable in the end, and Scotland are still very much alive. – Guardian