Seven tries, four debuts and nearly a half-century of points – this Scotland performance had some obvious flaws, but it also had some equally evident plus points. For a start, given the inexperience of most of the team, the coherence and sense of purpose they displayed for the bulk of the game on Saturday night was commendable.
Hooker George Turner’s hat-trick was the stand-out achievement of the evening in the Commonwealth Stadium, symbolising the superiority of the Scotland maul over the Canadians, but there was also a fine display off the bench by Lewis Carmichael. The Edinburgh lock was joined in winning his first cap by Adam Hastings, Jamie Ritchie and James Lang, none of whom looked out of place at this level.
Lang, pictured inset, Lee Jones and hooker Fraser Brown were all forced off by injury. It was confirmed yesterday that Edinburgh winger Dougie Fife will join up with the squad today as cover for Jones, while Brown’s rib damage is giving concern to Gregor Townsend as he begins to prepare for a far tougher challenge from the USA in Houston in five days’ time.
“He’s on his way to hospital now,” the head coach said. “We’ll wait and see what the prognosis is. We have four hookers on the trip, but let’s hope Fraser is available for at least one of the two remaining games.”
Tour captain Stuart McInally is also out injured at present, and although Townsend is hopeful that the Edinburgh hooker will be able to play against Argentina at least, the assurance with which Turner played after coming off the bench means the coach knows there is no rush to get either McInally or Brown back into action. Grant Stewart, the fourth hooker, has impressed Townsend in training so could get his chance off the bench in Texas.
Townsend declined to go public with the flaws in his team’s game which he thinks need most work in the coming days, but he accepted that some of the rustiness shown might be inevitable on the first game of a tour.
“It probably is, especially with the team we put out,” he continued. “It’s not the team that played against Italy or a team that, especially in the backline, knows each other so well.
“We tried to be as cohesive as possible with the selection of the forwards. That was where most of the cohesion was, especially at the lineout. There is improvement to do in the forwards. In the last 20 minutes we were dynamic and ran hard. Dave Denton and Magnus Bradbury were getting through gaps and I thought they both played really well. The energy that Lewis and George brought helps when the opposition is tiring.
“It was a new backline, with halfbacks and a midfield who haven’t played together before, and a new back-three combination. We knew it wouldn’t be perfect. There were some good aspects. I would have liked them to have more of a go in that first half, but we saw that more in the second half.”
For all that there was a greater clinical edge after the break, Scotland were also well on top for long spells in the first half too. After Sam Hidalgo-Clyne had opened the scoring with a penalty, Lang put Byron McGuigan in for the first try of the evening, and a second from Ruaridh Jackson gave Scotland a 15-3 lead at the break.
Perhaps the worst aspect of the first half was the visitors’ failure to score when they were a man up after loosehead prop Noah Barker was sinbinned. That was counterbalanced after the break when Jackson was yellow-carded, however, as the 14 men took the fight to Canada in resolute style.
Turner had scored the first of his tries by that time, and although the home side were awarded a penalty try for Jackson’s deliberate knock-on while deep in defence, they would not score again. Conversely, Scotland began scoring almost at will, with tries from Bradbury and Carmichael sandwiching Turner’s second and third.
“They were excellent tries,” Townsend added when asked about the hooker’s hat-trick – the first from a Scotland player in a Test since Ali Hogg back in 2007. “It’s a credit to Dan McFarland, who has worked well with the forwards over the past season, and Carl Hogg has been in charge of the lineout here. The players themselves have to do the hard work and pump the legs at the front of the maul for the guy at the back to get over.
“If you get a good maul it means you can do other things. You can score from it, but you can break out because the opposition is worried about it. It is a good weapon to have in the locker. What we need to improve next week is scoring a try or two from the backs. That would be nice.”
After a mild, rainy evening in Alberta, the Houston game could well be played in extreme heat. “That’s a challenge, and they will be more accustomed to it than we are,” Townsend suggested. “It is a good challenge for us as we could be playing in similar conditions against Ireland in the World Cup. The ball will be slippery. Part of the challenge is beating the conditions as well as the opposition.”