SCOTLAND maintained their winning summer with a hard-fought victory over Canada in Toronto but they made heavy weather of it in what were near perfect conditions.
Scorers: Canada: Try: Hassler. Pens: Pritchard 4. Scotland: Try: Gilchrist. Con: Laidlaw. Pens: Laidlaw 3; Hogg.
Both sides scored one try and four penalties, the difference between the two teams on the day was one conversion.
The final quarter of the match was a nail-biting affair and it ended shrouded in bitter controversy. Scotland were defending a two-point lead inside the final five minutes when Canadian flanker Jebb Sinclair ran right over the top of Ruaridh Jackson leaving him prostrate on the ground. The referee went upstairs and Sinclair was shown a red card. More importantly, the referee, who had awarded a kickable penalty to Canada, now reversed it and awarded the kick to Scotland, who breathed a mighty sigh of relief and only just held out against 14 men.
Understandably the Canadian crowd vented their fury at the Kiwi referee, as well they might. Even if the red card was justified, which was debatable, he had allowed the Scots to lie all over the ball at the breakdown and slow things down. Canada were much the better team for most of this match and coach Vern Cotter has plenty on his plate as the squad head to Argentina.
The hosts proved as tough and resilient as everyone expected but Canada also bared some teeth in attack, with the Scots ripped wide open on more than one occasion. Scotland’s defence coach Matt Taylor will be breaking out in a cold sweat just thinking about this one. In fact Canada’s midfield looked a lot more potent than the men in blue, with offloads and a host of smart lines. Phil Mack showed the difference a speedy muscular scrum-half can make to a team, a constant threat with the ball in hand.
The Canadians also showed great enterprise by refusing to kick the ball away, a lesson for every Test team, or so you’d like to think. Instead the Canadian backs backed themselves, with Harry Jones and James Pritchard both running the ball from deep when every blue shirt on the field expected them to kick.
Scotland’s 21-year-old Finn Russell was perhaps due a setback after enjoying a stellar season and sure enough he made any number of errors. After giving away the ball cheaply inside the Canadian half with an attempted grubber that went nowhere in heavy traffic, he tried the same trick around his own 22 with the same outcome, another cheap turnover and this one deep inside Scottish territory. When the Scots had their next attacking opportunity it was ruined by a forward pass from Russell which fell to a red shirt.
He wasn’t the only one to display nerves on the day. One first-half pass from Sean Lamont sailed into touch and the same happened to Sean Maitland after the break. Lamont became Scotland’s second most capped player yesterday, overtaking Scott Murray’s 87 caps, but he has enjoyed more memorable games.
Former Glasgow winger Taylor Paris also dropped a simple pass inside his own 22 to put Canada under pressure. Greig Laidlaw’s box kick was charged down just metres from his own line and the Scots were lucky to concede no more than a lineout.
Late in the first half Scott Lawson was unable to hold on to the ball when Laidlaw spurned an easy three points with a quick tap penalty inside the Canadian red zone. After keeping their line intact for 80 minutes against the Eagles, Scotland got the fright of their lives when Canada looked like they had scored within five minutes of kick-off, only for the TMO to rule that Jeff Hassler had knocked on.
The first concerted series of attacks of the match came from Canada who finally managed to hold on to the ball long enough to build some pressure. The Scots’ ill discipline was to cost them dear. First up the blue shirts conceded a penalty under their own posts to enable James Pritchard to even the scores. From the restart the Scots were pinged again and Canada used the field position to score the first try of the match.
Outside centre Ciaran Hearn found himself faced by Lawson which was not a contest of equals in the wide open spaces. Hearn rounded the hooker and cut inside the full-back. While Stuart Hogg caught him, the Scot could do nothing to prevent Hassler from scoring after picking a canny inside angle.
The Scots’ response was almost immediate. Lamont grubbered the ball up the right wing, Maitland retrieved it and a few plays later Grant Gilchrist rumbled over from short range for his first ever international try.
The first half ended as it had started with Laidlaw kicking a scrum penalty to give Scotland a 13-8 lead but the indiscipline continued after the break to give Pritchard two more penalties in the third quarter, the second of which gave Canada the lead. The BMO crowd let out a collective gasp when DTH van der Merwe, on for Paris, almost stole an interception. For Scotland, Kevin Bryce won his first cap in unusual circumstances, coming on for Johnnie Beattie in the back row after Scotland ran out of substitutes.
Then came that breathtaking finale. The kickers swapped penalties, Hogg on 60, Pritchard on 70 and Laidlaw on 72 before the referee’s red card trumped them all.
Canada: Pritchard; Hassler, Hearn, Blevins (Braid 65 mins), Paris (van der Merwe 45 mins); Jones, Mack; Buydens (Tiedemann 55 mins), Carpenter (Barkwill 60 mins), Marshall, Hotson, Cudmore, Kleeberger, Moonlight, Ardon (capt).
Scotland: Hogg; Maitland, Lamont, Horne, Visser (Evans 72 mins); Russell (Jackson 60 mins)(Hart 75 mins), Laidlaw (Capt); Reid, Lawson, M Low (Cross 47 mins), Gray, Gilchrist, Strokosch (Cowan 30 mins), Brown (K Low 47 mins), Beattie (Bryce 60 mins).
Referee: M Fraser. Attendance: 18,788.