Gregor Townsend insists he loves Fiji. It is hard to see why – his first trip to the island produced one of Scotland’s more embarrassing defeats when he was a player – 51-26; his second brought his first as Scotland head coach. Not a lot there to make him happy.
It is not as though he could complain about the result. After he made 12 changes to the side that beat Australia, some forced, most voluntary, the new-look team misfired at just about every level as they were given a lesson in exactly the kind of rugby Townsend would love to get the Scots playing.
The Fijians were joyous to watch, with Leone Nakarawa – a Townsend protege at Glasgow Warriors – producing exactly the kind of outrageous offloading display he used to show at Scotstoun. He was happy to take the ball on from just about any part of the field, and produced some jaw-dropping skills to keep his side going forward.
He had a hand in both Fiji’s tries, chucking the ball out of a maul to create space for stand-off Ben VolaVola to cross kick to Patrick Osborne, the wing. He barged off the Scots defence and put flanker Peceli Yano in for the score. All too easy.
Nakarawa’s second intervention was even more outrageous, taking the ball through the middle of the Scots defence, waving it about in his trademark style, and then offloading to Henry Seniloli, the replacement scrum-half, for what turned out to be the vital try. So what if there was more than a hint of forward about the final pass, there was no TMO and the officials probably decided Fiji deserved the points for style.
There was nothing nearly as poetic about the Scottish scores. Two came from lineout drives with both hookers touching down, Ross Ford in the first half to mark his 110th and record-breaking Scotland cap and Fraser Brown getting his first Test try in same way after the break.
In between Ruaridh Jackson, sent forward from full-back to stand-off after injury forced a shuffle in the backs, also collected his first Test try when he was first on to a loose ball two yards from the Fiji line.
If the Fiji tries were works of art, these were prosaic, workmanlike efforts that made up the Scots’ responses. They did win the try count three-two but rarely can there have been a match that so deserved the response “so what?”
The defence was just as dull. Some of the Scottish tackles did bring their opponents down – though they slipped off more than 30 – but when they did it was almost gentle as they tugged the Islanders to earth.
On the other side, Fiji were smashing into their opponents. Poor Damien Hoyland, on the wing, got the wrong side of two monster hits, and there were many, many more of equal ferocity, and a stream of turnovers resulted.
One result was that when Scotland did have the ball, they struggled to hang on to to it. A dreich afternoon of steady drizzle did not help either side’s handling but only Scotland – who, let’s face it, should be used to those conditions – seemed to let it get to them.
To compound matters, Scotland spent most of the game refusing to take points on offer from the many penalties they won and were handed a lesson by Fiji, Vulavula putting over five penalties and a conversion.
Fiji scored their first try just before the break to lead as the players headed for the changing rooms, and though Scotland fought back to level the scores, a home purple patch pulled them ten points clear going into the finale.
Brown’s touchdown did give Scotland some hope but if there was to be a dramatic miracle finish, they needed to keep the ball and they did not seem capable of doing that.
Cooler counsel may eventually prevail, but after the game it was very much a case of all the good work that was done against Australia being undone.