Murrayfield try feast gives Gregor Townsend food for thought

It was a very far from perfect but undeniably entertaining first home international in charge for Scotland coach Gregor Townsend as the '¨sell-out crowd witnessed this dizzying try feast.

A Murrayfield Test record of 82 points – one for every Scotland cap Townsend won as a player – included more than 20 per cent of the 46 players involved in this opening autumn Test notching a try, with home hooker Stuart McInally bagging a maul-drive double among the 11 touchdowns.

There was a nervy couple of minutes at the end when Samoa got within six points but it was a match Scotland hadn’t looked like losing from the moment Stuart Hogg seized on the awkward bounce from a Tommy Seymour hack ahead down the right to claim his 17th Test try in 90 seconds.

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Scotland were 32-10 ahead early in the second half but couldn’t pull away as the Samoans, whose union has been declared bankrupt, demonstrated once again that there will never be a shortage of reserves when it comes to commitment and heart in the light blue jerseys.

Double try-scorer Stuart McInally celebrates during the win over Samoa at Murrayfield. Picture: Ian Rutherford/PA

When Ofisa Treviranus 
barrelled over to get them within a converted try near the end there was a flutter of anxiety but Scotland had done enough by scoring themselves at regular intervals. After Hogg’s opener there was another for the ever-impressive Huw Jones before McInally drove over either side of half-time. Alex Dunbar and Peter Horne crossed in each corner, while Finn Russell kicked three conversions and two penalties. Horne converted his own try.

So a winning home start for Townsend but a universal acknowledgement that a lot of tightening up is required if there is to be any sliver of hope that a first win over New Zealand can be achieved this Saturday evening.

Certainly, an opening-half display as scrappy as was delivered against the Samoans would likely result in a large deficit if repeated against the All Blacks, rather than the 15-point lead it yielded here.

There was much talk in the build-up of the helter-skelter 2015 World Cup pool match which Scotland edged 36-33. As the basketball-style sequence of scoring unfolded in the second half it stirred memories of St James’ Park but, on that occasion, there was continual change of lead while, this time, the Scots were always in front and trying to keep the Samoan response at arm’s length.

Double try-scorer Stuart McInally celebrates during the win over Samoa at Murrayfield. Picture: Ian Rutherford/PA

“I think this game was different,” said Townsend. “The end of it was quite similar but the Newcastle game went score-score-score all the time.

“We built up what we felt was a substantial lead. And, okay, we then allowed Samoa back into the game when we were planning to kick on with that lead. At the end, obviously, when you’re only winning by six points you do enough to stay out in front and the players did that.”

Townsend didn’t shy away from the worrying aspects of his team’s display but was keen to stress the positives and bask in another Test win – a sixth of the calendar year with two more to play.

“We started well then we sat off Samoa,” he added. “We felt we didn’t attack with the intent we know we’re capable of. Then we really went at them before half-time and we were really pleased as a coaching group the way we played before 
half-time.

“We started the second half well but, yeah, we didn’t kick on. We thought we would kick on after that because we were looking good and scoring tries with that ball.

“Part of that was our errors. After we score a try and then you’re in your 22, it’s difficult to defend. You give away a penalty and then you’re defending a lineout drive, that’s another challenge for our defence.

“It could have been a different score but I thought Samoa deserved what they got from the game. When they had ball they looked powerful, scored their tries and played positive rugby.”

Failings at the restart, which were also an issue in that World Cup game against Samoa among many others in recent years, raised their head again.

“[The restart] is an aspect of the game, it’s the third set-piece, so you’ve got to make sure you practise it,” said Townsend. “Today it cost us, but another day it might be lineout or scrums. It’s always something you look at.

“We’ll have a look at our set-up and what we could do differently and make sure the players practise their roles of communication in getting up for the ball in the air.”

Another positive was the fact that Scotland now have four new internationalists. Edinburgh loosehead Darryl Marfo looked the part and there were debuts off the bench for hooker George Turner, loosehead Jamie Bhatti and Newcastle centre/wing Chris Harris.

“I thought Darryl played well, got a ball out of the tackle
on his first involvement, the scrum went well and we looked always to be going forward and maybe didn’t get the rewards we thought we should,” said Townsend. “I thought Darryl got off the line well in defence and he should be very proud of his 
performance.

“For the other guys it’s a bit challenging when you’re coming on and the other side are coming right back into it, but they’ll feel much better that they’ve played international rugby in front of 67,000 people and they should be proud of their performances.”

Townsend feels that the fact things didn’t go perfectly to script will add the bite necessary for a big week preparing to face the All Black might.

“We’ve seen that before when a team wins not playing to their best, it certainly sharpens the training,” said the coach. “I think we’d have had that anyway with our opposition this week. We’ll have to be at our very best, or New Zealand will score points against us. They score points against any defence.

“To lower our standards in defence will be disappointing for all of us, coaches and 
players.

“The players take pride in the way they defend. We’ll have to be better next week.”