Scotland gain confidence after Tonga but the harder tests await - starting with Australia

As heartening as it was to watch Scotland rack up ten tries on a sunny autumn afternoon at BT Murrayfield, bigger tests lie in wait for Gregor Townsend and his players.

Glasgow wingers Kyle Steyn and Rufus McLean scored six tries between them for Scotland against Tonga.
Glasgow wingers Kyle Steyn and Rufus McLean scored six tries between them for Scotland against Tonga.

Well, perhaps not bigger, because Tonga have some brutes in their line-up, but certainly harder. Saturday’s 60-14 triumph over the Pacific Islanders was as comprehensive and emphatic as the scoreline suggests against a team who were deprived of their best players due to this match falling outside the international window. Scotland had the same fate, but have much more depth to their ranks than Tonga, who were cut open time and time again by their hosts.

Australia are up next for Scotland this Sunday, followed by world champions South Africa six days later and then Japan on November 20. And while head coach Townsend cut a satisfied figure when speaking to the press after the victory, he knows to put the free-scoring performance in perspective.

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He gave eight players their debuts – Pierre Schoeman, Jamie Hodgson, Rufus McLean, Sione Tiupulotu, Jamie Dobie, Ross Thompson, Marshall Sykes and Luke Crosbie.

Scotland's debutants Marshall Sykes, Pierre Schoeman, Ross Thompson, Jamie Hodgson, Luke Crosbie, Rufus McLean, Jamie Dobie and Sione Tuipulotu.

McLean scored two tries and Kyle Steyn, on only his second appearance, touched down on four occasions. Such feats increase morale all the way through the squad and that is vital when welcoming the third-best team in the world to Edinburgh under former Glasgow Warriors coach Dave Rennie.

“We’ll get confidence from the fact what we worked on in training has been transferred into a winning performance,” Townsend said.

“They will have really enjoyed the occasion, whether the fact it was their first cap or not, they will want to get back out there.

“So it’s good to go into such a big week with those positive feelings. We had trained well all week, a lot of that was down to the players who weren’t selected for Saturday.

Will Haining grins after scoring his try.

“Everyone knows this is a really tough challenge we have on Sunday.

“Australia are the No 3 team in the world and they deserve to be there.

“They play an open style of rugby which is great to watch but it’s obviously going to be a real challenge for us from a defensive side of it."

Australia arrive in Scotland in good form, having won their past four matches (two of which were against the Springboks). They have recovered well from three defeats in a row by New Zealand earlier this summer. Their squad, and in particular their backline, is packed with young players on an upward trajectory, although their preparations for this tour have been hampered by Japan-based players in Quade Cooper, Samu Kerevi and Sean McMahon withdrawing from the group and choosing club over country.

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend.

It has left the Wallabies’ hierarchy furious at the snub, with the trio permitted to make such a decision because they are no longer contracted to Rugby Australia. Cooper and Kerevi impressed when recalled to the squad on the back of the aforementioned defeats by the All Blacks, but while they answered Australia’s call to rescue their Rugby Championship campaign, travelling to Britain is a different matter. It is a sideshow Rennie and Co can do without.

Scotland do not have such baggage, going into the next leg of the Autumn Nations Series in nice form, and welcome back into the fold players based in England and France. Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg, Sam Skinner, Duhan van der Merwe, Rory Sutherland, Huw Jones, Chris Harris and Adam Hastings join up with the squad on Monday – and all could find themselves in the starting XV.

Townsend is unable to spring many surprises on Australia, though. Rennie knows many of the players well due to his time as Warriors boss, while his defence coach Matt Taylor was a trusty lieutenant of Townsend’s. They know the Scots inside out, but it works both ways. Scotland should at least understand the mindset of the men guiding the Aussies.

“Maybe it will help, maybe it will help them as well,” smiled Townsend when asked about the scenario.

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“Matt Taylor worked with me for eight years so he obviously knows a lot of our players.

“We know the way they want to do things and it’s proven to be successful.

“It adds to the occasion. We know their coaches and there’s obviously some great bonds between ourselves and Australia.

“We’ve had three or four really competitive games against Australia in recent years so we know it’s going to be a really competitive match.”

It is likely to be more competitive than what we witnessed against Tonga. Scotland too easily sliced through their weak rearguard, although it must be said that the pace and footwork McLean showed for the first two tries – on six and 14 minutes – would have troubled better opponents. When Steyn and Schoeman crossed the whitewash before the half-hour mark, it was just a question of how many scores Scotland could put on the board.

Steyn scored again on 31 minutes but the best of the lot was notched by the Glasgow man just before the break, benefitting from some fine running by Darcy Graham and McLean, before Blair Kinghorn’s long crossfield kick was scooped up by the winger after a favourable bounce. Steyn added another try – the first Scotland player to score four in one match at Murrayfield – while hooker George Turner and replacements Nick Haining and Oli Kebble got in on the act.

The only downsides, if they can be called that, were some loose passages of play and some unnecessary penalties that Townsend will want to cut out when the A-listers come calling. However, he will be pleased with the way this Scotland team is evolving, and the competition for places that is increasing game after game.

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How the Scotland players rated in 60-14 win against Tonga

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