Duhan van der Merwe at the double as Scotland overpower Georgia after sticky start
Georgia frustrated the Scots in the opening 40 but the home team came good after the break, scoring five tries to secure a 33-6 win. Just as importantly, Gregor Townsend’s team seemed to come through unscathed, a blessing for all concerned given the physical nature of the visitors. The focus now switches to Marseille and the World Cup opener against South Africa on September 10 and Townsend knows Scotland will need to produce a much improved performance against the defending champions who pulverised the All Blacks at Twickenham on Friday night. The coach will take heart from the professional job his team did in the second half against Georgia but there will be frustration at the poor start.
The home team were guilty of forcing it at times, but came out the traps quickly after the interval and were worthy winners in the end, with Jack Dempsey outstanding. Duhan van der Merwe scored two tries to take his Scotland total to 20 in 31 Tests - fifth on the all-time list - and there were singles for Rory Darge, Dempsey and Kyle Steyn. The latter was a late replacement for the injured Darcy Graham who now finds himself one behind van der Merwe on the try count.
Graham has a minor quad strain and should be fit for France but his spark was missed in the opening exchanges at Murrayfield. It took Scotland 26 minutes to get into the Georgian 22 and by that stage they were already 6-0 behind. Luka Matkava’s pair of penalties in the opening quarter had the visitors ahead and it was hard to begrudge them their lead. Scotland had started the narrow defeat against France in Saint-Etienne in such impressive fashion a fortnight ago but this was the polar opposite. They were trying to get the ball wide early to their dangermen but the Georgians had other ideas and were successful in frustrating the Scots. And when Grant Gilchrist was penalised for not moving away quickly enough at the tackle, Matkava took full advantage, kicking Georgia into the lead.
Russell tried to get Scotland going, spinning a long pass out to Steyn but Georgia stood firm. It wasn’t all grunt and muscle, either. In Davit Niniashvili they had their own creative fulcrum and the Lyon full-back sparked a dangerous attack, stepping from deep and sparking a move which saw Demur Tapladze kick a smart grubber through for Miriani Modebadze who was denied a try only by Ollie Smith’s intervention. Georgia continued to press and were awarded another kickable penalty as Scotland strayed offside trying to defend close to their own line. Matkava duly doubled the visitors’ lead.
Murrayfield was ominously quiet and it took a close-up on the big screen of visiting Hollywood star Gerard Butler to raise the decibel levels. Russell, the A-lister in dark blue, tried to up the ante and Scotland ended the half on top with a strong final 15 minutes. They thought they’d scored, too, the stand-off finding Steyn on the right, but the winger lost control of the ball as he tried to touch down and the try was chalked off after a TMO check.
After 40 scoreless minutes Scotland came out with renewed vigour in the second half and bagged two converted tries in short order. Van der Merwe was involved in both. The big winger had been a frustrated figure in the first half but it took him only six minutes of the second to make a telling contribution, getting on the end of Russell’s clever kick to score in the corner after a brief juggle. Three minutes later he was on the charge again, but was stopped just short when he had Sione Tuipulotu in support. Jamie Bhatti took it on and was held up but Darge on it like a flash, diving over from close range for Scotland’s second try. Russell knocked over his second conversion then took his leave along with Darge, Dave Cherry, Bhatti, Ben White and WP Nel as Townsend rang the changes with that game against South Africa in Marseille in mind.
Georgia were starting to creak as Scotland began to punch holes in their previously sturdy defence. Dempsey was a constant menace with ball in hand and powered over for try number three from close range. Ben Healy, on for Russell, converted to stretch the lead to 21-6. The game had slipped away from the east Europeans and their frustrations were evident as winger Aka Tabutsadze pulled back Jamie Ritchie while they contested a high ball. It was dangerous and illegal and the Scotland captain reacted angrily, squaring up to the Georgian.
The home team responded in the best possible manner, scoring their fourth try through Steyn after more impressive work by Dempsey who was starting to run amok. Healy converted. There was time for one more try and van der Merwe delivered, finishing in the corner after taking receipt of Healy’s looped pass, the replacement stand-off turning in another assured performance, although he off target with his final conversion attempt.
Scotland took a lap of appreciation at the end, cheered to the rafters by the home crowd who had seen them win all three warm-up games at Murrayfield. Stiffer tests now lie ahead.
Scorers: Scotland: Tries: Van der Merwe 2, Darge, Dempsey, Steyn. Cons: Russell 2. Healy 2. Georgia: Pens: Matkava 2.
Scotland: O Smith; K Steyn, H Jones (C Harris 59), S Tuipulotu, D van der Merwe; F Russell (B Healy 52), B White (G Horne 52); J Bhatti (R Sutherland 52), D Cherry (E Ashman 52), WP Nel (J Sebastian 52), S Skinner (S Cummings 61), G Gilchrist, J Ritchie (c), R Darge (M Fagerson 52), J Dempsey.
Georgia: D Niniashvili; A Tabutsadze, D Tapladze, M Sharikadze (c), M Modebadze; L Matkava (T Abzhandadz 67), V Lobzhanidze (G Aprasidze 59); M Nariashvili, S Mamukashvili (T Zamtaradze 37), B Gigashvili (G Papidze 56), L Chachanidze, K Mikautadze, L Ivanishvili (S Mamamtavrishvili 74), M Gachechiladze, T Jalaghonia.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France).
Attendance: 54, 212.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.