Rugby World Cup: Scotland keep quarter-final hopes alive with bonus-point win over Tonga - what is needed now to qualify
But they are off the mark, finally. A bonus point win over Tonga was the minimum requirement after defeat by South Africa a fortnight ago and it was duly delivered on a sultry evening in Nice. This is a city where painters and writers have converged and there was some artistry in Scotland’s 45-17 victory, most notably in the way Finn Russell and Sione Tuipulotu combined. But there was brutality, too. Scotland lost their captain, Jamie Ritchie, after 33 minutes, the victim of an ugly tackle by Afusipa Taumoepeau which saw the Tongan winger catch Ritchie in the head with his shoulder. Taumoepeau escaped with a yellow card when it should have been red. There was a further yellow for Vaea Fifita near the end, again for going in high, on Russell, and this one was later upgraded to red.
Amid the monstrous hits, Scotland played some nice rugby. Their failure to score a try against the Springboks had stung - it had been almost three years since that had last happened - and they responded in Nice with seven, George Turner, Duhan van der Merwe, Kyle Steyn, Rory Darge, George Horne, Blair Kinghorn and Darcy Graham all crossing.
Ireland’s win over South Africa on Saturday night had not helped Scotland’s hopes of escaping the treacherously difficult Pool B but this victory keeps them in the mix. It’s Romania next in Lille on Saturday and then Ireland in Paris on October 7. All Scotland need are a bonus point win over the Pool B minnows and a then victory in the Stade de France which denies the Irish a bonus point. Simple, right?
Having had such a long wait Scotland were eager to get going and thought they had taken the lead after 98 seconds. Kinghorn hacked on from 60 yards and won the chase for his own kick but touched down inches short of the line and the try was chalked off after a video check.
The opening try was delayed only by a few minutes and it came from a lineout drive. The Tongan pack were ragged as they were shoved all the way back and Turner finished things off to have the honour of scoring Scotland’s first try at this World Cup, which Russell converted.
The game was already far looser and more open than Scotland’s first game against South Africa where space had been in such short supply. As expected, the Tongans hit hard and van der Merwe was sent flying by thundering tackle from Solomone Kata. By that stage they had cut Scotland’s lead to 7-3 courtesy of William Havili’s penalty after Rory Sutherland had transgressed at the scrum. A few minutes later Sione Tuipulotu was sent flying up in the air by a no-arms tackle from Pita Ahki. It wasn’t for the faint of heart and worse was to come for Scotland when full-back Salesi Piutau rode a couple of tackles before offloading for Solomone Kata to score in the corner. Havili’s conversion had Tonga 10-7 ahead at the mid-point of the first half but Scotland took control with three tries before the interval.
Van der Merwe got things rolling, finishing in the corner from Kinghorn’s looped pass as Scotland worked the ball across the field from a lineout down the right. Steyn got the next one after Russell’s flat pass eliminated a couple of Tongans but Scotland lost their captain shortly after. The tackling had been fierce but Afusipa Taumoepeau’s hit on Ritchie drew audible gasps from the crowd. It was also illegal, the winger’s shoulder catching Ritchie in the face. He was sent to the sin-bin for a bunker review but was surprisingly allowed to return early in the second half, the video review officer deeming it worthy of only a yellow card. There was no return for Ritchie who looked none too clever as he left the field, replaced by Matt Fagerson.
Tonga were down to 14 men but defended doggedly in the closing minutes of the half to deny Chris Harris on one wing and then van der Merwe on the other in quick succession but they couldn’t hold out and Darge ploughed over for Scotland’s fourth try in time added on, securing the bonus point in the process. Russell, who’d missed the previous two conversion attempts, made sure with this one.
If Scotland thought they had pulled away, Tonga reeled them back, with a try from their captain Ben Tameifuna. The wound was self-inflicted. A quick Scottish lineout saw Russell kick the ball straight to Kata whose dancing feet created the space for Tameifuna to eventually score. Havili’s conversion made it 24-17.
It was time for fresh faces and Townsend brought on Pierre Schoeman, George Horne, Huw Jones and Darcy Graham from his star-studded bench. Horne, outstanding for Glasgow all last season, didn’t take long to make an impression, finishing with tenacity for Scotland’s fifth try after good work by van der Merwe. Russell’s final conversion from out on the left touchline gave the Scots some breathing space at 31-17.
They were in the driving seat now and Kinghorn finally managed to get himself a try, 64 minutes after being denied in the early skirmishes. Russell and Tuipultou had dovetailed superbly all night and they were at it again to set up the full-back. Kinghorn looked to have his second eight minutes later but was caught just short. Darcy Graham did eventually deliver Scotland’s seventh try with the clock in the red zone. The winger picked up the ball 10 metres inside his own half and slalomed his way to the line for his 20th Test try.