The visitors overcame a second-minute yellow card to move ahead midway through the first half and they kept their lead until just before the break. But they were outrun in the second 40 as Scotland scored 14 unanswered points.
The Scots were ragged and undisciplined at times in the first period and struggled to find much rhythm but they regained their composure after the interval, with Richie Gray impressing in his first Test start in over five years and Darcy Graham carrying well. The little winger wasn’t able to score a try but George Turner, Adam Hastings, Duhan van der Merwe and Ben White did. All four were converted - two by Hastings and two by his replacement, Blair Kinghorn - in a bruising encounter which saw three Fiji players yellow-carded.
The home side lost Turner and Hastings to injury, a worry for Gregor Townsend ahead of next weekend’s clash with the All Blacks. Scotland will need to be a lot more precise for that one but the coach will take heart from a professional second-half performance.
Cotter, who bowed out as Scotland coach with a tearful Murrayfield farewell in 2017, predicted the home side would pull away in the final quarter and so it proved. But the opening half belonged to the tourists. It was a debut to remember for Ratu Leone Rotuisolia who was yellow-carded within 80 seconds then returned to the fray to score the try which edged Fiji into the lead. The sin-binning could be put down to an early rush of blood to the head. When Ali Price tried to take a quick tap penalty he found himself wrapped up in the arms of the big lock. “Cynical,” said referee Nic Berry and Rotuisolia trudged off towards the trackside exercise bikes.
Scotland quickly made the most of their numerical advantage, kicking a penalty to the corner and using their driving maul from the lineout to carry Turner over the line for the game’s opening try. Hastings converted and everything looked rosy in the hosts’ garden. However, things then started to go awry for Townsend’s side who conceded a rash of penalties, mainly for being offside. Fiji took a pot at goal with one, but Setareki Tuicuvu was off target.
Scotland continued to transgress and with Rotuisolia back on, Fiji were able to make the hosts pay. Their first try was as simple as it was effective. A couple of solid carries from the big men narrowed the Scottish defence before the ball was shipped out to Tuicuvu who produced an impressive one-handed finish in the corner. The winger’s conversion attempt was horribly skewed but Fiji had their tails up and Scotland were starting to look untidy. Jamie Ritchie was spoken to by Berry about the number of penalties but Scotland continued to transgress and were made to pay and Fiji openside Levani Botia was just held up but Rotuisolia forced his way over for the visitors’ second try. Vilimoni Botitu, taking over kicking duties, slotted over the conversion and worse was to follow as Scotland were reduced to 14 men when Stuart Hogg was yellow-carded for one penalty too many.
These were anxious moments for Scotland who were grateful to Hastings and Cam Redpath for halting a couple of Fijian incursions. The penalties continued to come and the Scots also lost hooker George Turner to injury. Fiji then fumbled with the tryline in their sights and the home side were able to have a breather and welcome Hogg’s return.
Scotland had weathered the storm and were able to edge ahead just before half-time. Having won a penalty in the Fijian 22 they opted for the scrum and when Price passed to Hastings the stand-off’s dummy fooled everyone and he was able to go in under the posts. His conversion put Scotland 14-12 in front at the break but his game was ended early in the second half by a thumping tackle from Rotuisolia.
Kinghorn replaced him and Scotland scored their third try shortly after. Chris Harris’ floated pass missed out Hogg and was collected by van der Merwe who stepped inside Sireli Maqala for his 13th Test try. Kinghorn converted impressively from wide on the left.
Scotland now had a two-score advantage but Fiji weren’t exactly easing off. It was breathtakingly physical and Vinaya Habosi overstepped the mark with a swinging arm which caught replacement prop Rory Sutherland on the jaw. Berry brandished his yellow card for the third time but it could have been red.
Scotland were looking to put the game to bed but they were struggling to open up the Fijians. Murphy Walker was summoned from the bench for his Scotland debut, a huge moment for the Dundee-born prop who toured South America in the summer. Ben White, on for Price, tried to play in Darcy Graham with a clever cross-kick but the winger was denied by stout Fijian defence.
The visitors’ scrum was creaking and Berry was threatening Sam Matavesi with a yellow card. The hooker was quickly replaced by Tevita Ikanivere as Scotland continued to press. They thought they had scored when Redpath went over but Berry chalked it off for a knock on from Jack Dempsey at the scrum. Replacement prop Livai Natave became the fourth player to be shown the yellow card and Scotland finally notched their fourth try when Ben White was given the freedom of Murrayfield to run in from a scrum.
Scorers: Scotland: Tries: Turner, Hastings, van der Merwe, White. Cons: Hastings 2, Kinghorn 2.
Fiji: Tries: Tuicuvu, Rotuisolia. Cons: Botitu.
Scotland: 15. Stuart Hogg; 14. Darcy Graham (Sione Tuipulotu 69), 13. Chris Harris, 12. Cameron Redpath, 11. Duhan van der Merwe; 10. Adam Hastings (Blair Kinghorn 43), 9. Ali Price (Ben White 52); 1. Pierre Schoeman (Rory Sutherland 52), 2. George Turner (Ewan Ashman 31), 3. Zander Fagerson (Murphy Walker 69), 4. Richie Gray, 5. Grant Gilchrist (Jonny Gray 61), 6. Jamie Ritchie ©, 7. Hamish Watson (Jack Dempsey 52), 8. Matt Fagerson.
Fiji: 15. Kini Murimurivalu (Sireli Maqala 36); 14. Setareki Tuicuvu, 13. Waisea Nayacalevu ©, 12. Kalaveti Ravouvou (Teti Tela 57), 11. Vinaya Habosi; 10. Vilimoni Botitu, 9. Frank Lomani (Peni Matawalu 65); 1. Eroni Mawi (Livai Natave 50), 2. Sam Matavesi (Tevita Ikanivere 72), 3. Manasa Saulo (Luke Tagi 50), 4. Temo Mayanavanua (Apisalome Ratuniyarawa 55), 5. Ratu Leone Rotuisolia, 6. Albert Tuisue, 7. Levani Botia, 8. Viliame Mata.
Referee: Nic Berry (Aus)