New boy Rory Hutchinson lit up the Georgian night with two tries on his first Test start as Finn Russell orchestrated the attack, and the defence held firm on a thoroughly satisfying evening for Scottish rugby.
Part of the object of the game in Tbilisi was to see if the team had learned to win in a hostile stadium – something they will certainly have to do when they play Japan in Yokohama in the Rugby World Cup. While the Georgian officials were a bit disappointed not to have sold out the stadium, it was still busy enough and noisy enough to give the players some idea what to expect on the bigger stage.
This time there was no concession of a try in the opening two minutes, as there had been in the previous two matches, though a charged-down kick from Finn Russell did give Scotland an early scare before Greig Laidlaw settled a few nerves with a simple penalty.
Russell was at the heart of Scotland’s opening try, finding space to glide through with Matt Fagerson and Greig Laidlaw in support to take the ball to the line before handing on to Ben Toolis, the big lock, for his first Test try in his 20th match.
Hutchinson, who was making his international debut, also scored from a move as good as any that Scotland have produced in recent times. Russell was again the mastermind, starting the move with a chip kick into space that sent Darcy Graham racing clear to get close to the touchline before the ball was patiently recycled to the left, allowing Russell to pick out Hutchinson on the right, leaving the youngster to step inside the defence and go over.
The Georgians were always going to come back into the game, and after Scotland had dominated possession in the first quarter, the home side started to control the ball more and settle into their expected brutally physical approach.
The Scots defence was up to the job, though, with the forwards taking particular plaudits when they repelled a home maul inches from their line, forcing a turnover to clear the danger.
In the end, the frustration got the better of the home side and they eventually settled for just putting some points on the board with Soso Matiashvili, the full-back, slotting a penalty from 40 metres out, only for Laidlaw to end the half by restoring Scotland’s advantage with his third kick.
The second half could have opened with a disaster for Scotland when they lost the ball and handed Georgia an attacking opportunity. With the defence out of place, the hosts engineered a two-man overlap only to throw the ball into touch.
The riposte could not have been better.
Scotland drove the ball upfield and won a penalty when the whole home back division were caught offside. They went for a scrum rather than the certain three points and fooled the home side into thinking they were going for a drive. Instead the ball whizzed out to the backs and Hutchinson cut a perfect line to take Blair Kinghorn’s offload and cross for his second try of what had been a highly satisfactory night for him, the player showing some sterling defensive work and a good eye for the opportunities when they came his way.
Georgia were determined to register some sort of impact on the game, however, and when they had the ball they were capable of holding on to it and putting real pressure on the Scottish defence.
After a series of mauls and penalties, they eventually received their reward with Karlen Asieshvili, who had newly come on at prop, crashing over for the consolation score.
It didn’t really matter, though. Scotland were soon back on the attack and yet again it was Russell who had the vision to make it count with a clever grubber kick over the line for Darcy Graham to touch down for the Dark Blues’ fourth try.
By now both sides had their substitutes on and the game was breaking up a bit with Scott Cummings,who had come on for John Barclay, getting the ball close to the line at pace and having the strength to go over and claim try number five, enough to end the game on a high.