SCOTLAND saved their worst for last with a miserable, first-ever loss against Tonga, an island side that boasts a population less than half that of Aberdeen at just 102,000.
The Tongans were good for their win, scoring two tries while all the home side could manage were five penalties from the boot of Greig Laidlaw.
It was desperate stuff and Andy Robinson will now be under enormous pressure after watching his team play well below par in each and every one of the autumn Tests.
The Tongans played with a natural affinity for the game and always looked dangerous when they had the ball in hand and they earned their victory the hard way, with three of their players sent to the sin bin.
They finished the match with just 14 men and they only boasted that number because skipper Nili Latu returned to the field for the final few seconds.
The finale was edge of the seat stuff for all the wrong reasons.
The Scots were defending a 15-10 lead and looked as though they would manage to work the clock down for a scrappy win but the Tongans thought otherwise.
First, stand-off Fangatapu ’Apikotoa knocked over a simple penalty and then the left winger Fetu’u Vainikolo latched onto a Stuart Hogg up and under and set off down field like the hounds of hell were snapping at his heels.
He paused briefly to send Tim Visser the wrong way before he
continued his regal progress to the try line.
From looking at a five-point deficit, the Tongans suddenly enjoyed a 21-15 lead after ’Apikotoa knocked over his third penalty of the match a little later.
Tom Heathcote, who had only just entered the fray, had a chance to get three points back with a long-range shot but it proved a yard or so outside of the stand-off’s range, falling agonisingly short of the crossbar.
Needing a try to win, the Scots were thrown a lifeline when the French referee reversed a penalty after replacement Sione Timani dumped Rory Lawson head first on the Pittodrie turf. The Scots then had an attacking lineout and a couple of scrums all of which came to nothing.
Instead the ball squirted out of a scrum, the Tongans headed upfield and briefly threatened to score their third try.
The final whistle eventually put the home players out of their misery.
The first half was absolutely dire, terrible stuff that was only improved by being partly concealed by the
pillars holding up the main stand.
The Scots were unable to string any phases of play together, partly because the Tongans are a brave, broad and determined outfit, and partly because the home team took some wrong options and failed to hold on to the ball.
Not for the first time in this series, we were treated to the sight of
counter-rucking but, once again, it wasn’t coming from the boys in blue.
After seeing England lose to
Australia at least partly because they ignored kicks at goal in favour of an attacking lineout the Scots decided that imitation was the most sincere form of flattery.
With the scores level at 3-3
during what seemed like an interminable first half captain Kelly Brown repeatedly opted for a long series attacking lineouts instead of getting the scoreboard ticking over. Time and again the indomitable Tongans held out, even with giant lock Tukulua Lokotui in the sin bin at the end of the first half.
The Scots best chance came after 20 minutes when Tim Visser and Sean Lamont combined on the left flank to take the ball to within five metres of the Tongan line but somehow just couldn’t quite get over.
That was where the Scots set up camp for almost the entire third quarter.
Then they started at the beginning and tried all the options again just incase something clicked.
In fairness, the Scots did muscle the ball over the line just the once, but the Television Match Official could not determine whether Scott Lawson had grounded it, so the
referee awarded another scrum and the whole miserable process started over again.
It was, to be blunt, absolute agony to watch, which is pretty much all the Scottish backs were asked to do for 20 minutes.
Only at the death of the first half, after spurning five or six decent shots at goal, did Greig Laidlaw eventually add another three to Scotland’s score.
That gave them a less-than-
convincing 6-3 lead at the half-time break after kickers on both sides had landed early shots at goal. The stand-off did the same again early in the second half after a mazy run by Lamont had given the Scots an attacking position, and the 9-3 lead should have invigorated and breathed new life into the home team.
Instead it was just the cue the Tongans were looking for to produce their best spell, leaving the Scots reeling as their slick play resulted in a try for the lock Lokotui, who barged over after just a couple of plays.
Vianikolo added the second touchdown in glorious fashion and the contrast with Scotland, who had huffed and puffed in the most laborious fashion all afternoon and got no change for all their efforts, was as obvious as it was damning on our national side.
At least falling behind on the scoreboard acted as something of a cold shower to the Scots, who were awarded two penalties in front of the Tongan posts.
Laidlaw briefly put his side back in the driver’s seat with the twin kicks on 60 and 65 minutes but it was nowhere near enough to undo or even unsettle what was a much more aggressive and coherent
Those scores would ultimately prove to be the last points that Scotland would put on the board in this match and they came disastrously short of having any impact on the final result.
Scorers. Scotland: Pens: Laidlaw 5. Tonga: Tries: Lokotui, Vainikolo. Con: Apikotoa. Pens: Apikotoa 3.
Scotland: Hogg; S Lamont, Evans (De Luca 64 min), Scott, Visser; Laidlaw (Heathcote 73), Pyrgos (R Lawson 53); Traynor, S Lawson (Hall 42), Murray, Gray, Kellock, Strokosch, Brown, Denton (Barclay 54).
Tonga: Lilo; Vainkolo, Hufanga, Piukala, Helu; ‘Apikotoa, Moa; Taumalolo, Taione, ‘Aulika (Mailau 37), Tu’ineau, Lokotui, T-Pole (Timani 42), Latu (c), Ma’afu.
Referee: M Raynal (Fra).