Scotland wrap up autumn series in style against Tonga
Tries from Blair Cowan, Stuart Hogg, Alex Dunbar, Geoff Cross and Tommy Seymour
Stuart Hogg of Scotland scores a try against Tonga during the autumn test international match at Rugby Park in Kilmarnock, Scotland. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Scotland rounded of 2014 with another hugely encouraging display as they swept five tries past Tonga in a 37-12 win at Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park.
The Pacific Islanders had ended Andy Robinson’s reign as Dark Blues boss in 2012 with a shock win at Pittodrie but there was never any chance of that happening as Vern Cotter’s current troops ruthlessly exposed the visitors.
The first ever major Test match to be played on a plastic pitch saw Blair Cowan, Stuart Hogg, Alex Dunbar, Geoff Cross and Tommy Seymour — as well as 12 points from the boot of skipper Greig Laidlaw — set up the Scots for the crucial year ahead that starts with the Six Nations in February and ends with the World Cup to be staged in England.
The Tongans started brightly but the best they could muster was four first-half penalties from fly-half Latiume Fosita. For the Scots, this was a chance to put the seal on what has been a highly satisfactory Autumn series. After putting five tries past Argentina and bravely battling against New Zealand, Cotter wanted another big performance to set his team up for the challenges that lie ahead — and that is exactly what he got.
The majority of the Scotland XV had sampled action on a synthetic surface before thanks to visits to Guinness Pro12 outfit Cardiff’s Arms Park.
Pre-match, they all predicted a breathless affair and were proved right as the match — played out in front of a 16,000-strong crowd — swung from one end to the other.
Tonga found themselves ahead thanks to Fosita’s first penalty but then a man down as Nili Latu illegally stopped a Scottish maul from the latest in a succession of well-worked line-outs.
A man down, though, they could not deal with Scotland’s set-piece. Hooker Ross Ford had been pin-point with his delivery for the most part and after a few near things, got his reward when Cowan put the final touch on a well-executed push and drive after 15 minutes.
Laidlaw added the extras but another three successful kicks at the post from Fosita had the Tongans in charge once more. But even with Dunbar sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Vungakoto Lilo, the Scots remained dangerous.
Tonga thought they were in safe possession 10 yards inside the home 22 and with men over down the left. There was simply no catching Hogg, however, as Joe Tu’ineau was casual with his pass out wide and looked on in horror as the British and Irish Lion darted away into the distance to score an impressive 80-yard run-in try, converted once more by the skipper.
Fosita’s kicking faltered for the first time when he pulled a penalty wide five minutes into the second half. But Scotland were still firing on all cylinders, with the line-out proving the decisive factor again after 48 minutes.
Rob Harley claimed another Ford throw and after a couple of phases, Laidlaw swung the ball wide for Dunbar who jinked his way past Fetu’u Vainikolo to score in the corner.
The angle, though, was against Laidlaw as he tugged the conversion wide. Having kicked for touch on every occasion in the first half, Laidlaw finally opted to go for the posts with the Scots’ next penalty and made it count with another three points stretching their lead to 10.
With 17 minutes left and those memories of that 2012 defeat in Aberdeen still fresh in his mind, Laidlaw again took no chances as he clipped another penalty over.
Cross, who admitted before the match that Cotter had been brutally honest with him when telling the London Irish forward what he had to do to claim a starting slot, repaid the coach’s faith in him as he crashed over from close range to put the seal on victory with 14 minutes left.
Laidlaw added the conversion but Scotland were not done there and added a fifth try for the second time in three matches as Russell’s up-and-under toward the corner fell for Seymour to add the finishing touch.
Again Laidlaw struggled with the conversion from out wide but that did not stop Scotland from marching off to huge cheers. With 12 huge months to come next year, they will need to keep that confident strut up.