Scotland 60-14 Tonga: Billy Whizz and Hen Broon take on the superstar roles for a ten-try romp
At the end of a week of furious rebranding, the Little and Large of the Scotland team were hoping to make Murrayfield forget – for 80 minutes at least – its most celebrated entertainers.
Facebook, in an effort to shed a toxic past, was suddenly calling itself Meta. The Conservative government delivered a Budget which was classic Labour. The pleasingly random internationals which happen whenever the leaves turn brown and tumble in EH12 were suddenly corralled into something official called the Autumn Nations Series. And, most intriguingly, Blair Kinghorn sported the No 10 shirt while Darcy Graham was at full-back.
From the rear of the West Stand at least, Kinghorn presented a similar bearing to Rishi Sunak but he might have been less concerned with the Chancellor’s red box as Finn Russell’s box of tricks and whether the absent playmaker had left anything behind he could usefully deploy against the powerful Tongans.
Meanwhile, was Graham hoping that as a fellow Teri – native of Hawick like Stuart Hogg – some osmosis might smooth his assimilation into the No 15 berth? Alternatively, of course, the pair could have decided to be their own men and do the new jobs their way …
Graham was the first to have the opportunity, collecting the ball from deep in the opening minute and blurring past six or seven Tongans before being downed. He wasn’t back on his feet for long, though, as the visitors threatened for when he tried to stand up to Glasgow flanker Fotu Lokotui he was bounced back several yards like some poor cartoon schmuck.
If Graham and Kinghorn were really to turn up in comic-strip form, who would play them? Maybe Billy Whizz and Hen Broon. In their new roles they brought a certain wackiness to the line-up because of the Test happening outside the international window, precluding the involvement of Russell and Hogg, and the thought occurred that the players had been given licence to make it up as they went along. Maybe there would be more of this. Perhaps Zander Fagerson would switch to scrum-half mid-match and Hamish Watson would reappear as a Halloween witch.
The crowd probably wouldn’t have minded this. After all, here was the first opportunity to see their favourites play at Murrayfield for 19 long months, and to welcome them back after those magnificent victories in Paris and London at the start of the year.
But Kinghorn and Graham, the Edinburgh duo, weren’t debutants making their first appearances alongside the four proper new caps. In their regular positions, they’re established members of the squad. Kinghorn was dictating play with laidback assurance. Graham, when he got the chance, was anything but laidback, diving into thickets of sturdy hurdies and always making hard yards.
There was further evidence of South Pacific islanders’ brute strength when Jamie Ritchie was sent into reverse by Tanginoa Halaifonua. But the joint captain for the day was to play a key role from the ground in the move that led to the opening try from one of the new boys, Rufus McLean.
If Graham and Kinghorn – respectively winning caps number 20 and 26 – were expected to chaperone the newcomers among the backs then there was really no need. McLean quickly followed that score with another, this one requiring a sidestep, slickly delivered.
He was sprung by an absolute monster pass from Kinghorn. Russell himself would have been proud of that one but the next time the stand-in stand-off attempted to go long he was very nearly intercepted. That was quite Finn-like, too.
Kinghorn was on kicking duty. His languorous, long-legged style evoked Peter Brown, even though he was lacking the latter’s eccentricities, such as nose-blowing and jockstrap-hitching. On an afternoon when Murrayfield paid respects and gratitude to PC’s 1970s team-mate Sandy Carmichael, who died last week, that seemed perfectly apt. But while Kinghorn’s first couple of conversions sailed over effortlessly he’d have wanted a better ratio than three successes out of seven.
On the opposite wing from McLean, Kyle Steyn must have admired these scores. But he didn’t spend too long doing this. His first try of what would be an unforgettable day was fairly routine. The second required a bit more work and a decisive hand-off.
In between, another inductee managed to get on the scoreboard – prop Pierre Schoeman who if he sticks around will challenge Watson for the worst haircut in the squad, being another which will upset the Mullet Appreciation Society.
By half-time, six tries to the good and the game over as a contest, the fans in the two-thirds-full stadium began to chat among themselves. Well, they hadn’t seen each other for so long.
But Kinghorn and Graham remained diligent in their work and after the break continued to drive Scotland forward. Kinghorn was always ready with a flip pass to maintain pressure as Tonga began to tire and Graham, who never dropped a high ball, was always lurking.
There were four more tries to enjoy, including another couple for the flyer Steyn. Ten in total, then, and most from players born in South Africa, but at least an Edinburgh lad, hooker George Turner, got in on the act.
Next week will be different. Just a bit. Australia then, six days later, the Springboks. But this was a decent workout. The handling was good, the running was strong - and the flair from Kinghorn and Graham in their unusual berths would have been applauded by the world-class guys who sat this one out.
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