Back in February Chris Harris enjoyed his first cap for Scotland in the opening match of the Six Nations. I say “enjoyed” but in truth the Newcastle Falcon had a miserable time of it at outside centre. He looked completely out of his depth; scorched by the red-hot intensity of the game in Cardiff. Yesterday morning in Edmonton, Harris was selected at outside centre for his second start for Scotland and he did pretty well. He snaffled one early turnover to win a penalty inside the Canadian 22 but then he also lost the ball in contact inside the opposition red zone.
Harris, like the rest of the visiting team, improved after the break as Scotland ran in five second-half tries to go with the two they scored in the first half. Harris may have improved since February – he almost certainly has – but the truth is that he looked comfortable yesterday because of the opposition. The only similarity between Canada and Wales is the red jerseys that both teams sport.
The Canadian players watched Scotland play so much rugby that they should have paid for tickets at the turnstiles. The red defence had no line speed to speak of. Instead of flying into the face of the Scots, as happened in Cardiff, the Canadians jogged into their face and allowed the Scots to play their game, which was a little too lateral. Even then the Scottish back line looked rusty, with all five of the second-half tries falling to the forwards.
There is plenty to work on. Scotland must get better when receiving restarts, an old bugbear that almost bit them in Edmonton, and they need to improve their overall accuracy, which will come. On the upside, Scotland’s scrum was utterly dominant and their driving maul much the same. David Denton looked busy and purposeful with the ball in hand. Ali Price started his rehabilitation after a difficult season and both Jamie Ritchie and Lewis Carmichael looked the part on debut. Oh, and Blair Kinghorn kicks the ball an absolute mile.
In one first-half play the full-back hoofed the ball from ten metres inside his own 22 and the ball was fielded by his opposite number 15 metres inside Canada’s 22 before he put it off the field on the halfway mark for an easy 30-metre gain for the Scots.
Kinghorn also took the kicks at goal in the second half after Sam Hidalgo-Clyne had been benched, despite Adam Hastings coming on to the field early in the second half. Hastings was just one of a host of young Scottish players who looked good in Edmonton but this was Scotland’s easiest game on tour. With the USA and Argentina on the horizon, things will only get harder from here on in, although nothing like as hard as the European champions had it.
Australia played Ireland at the weekend, a full-blooded, brutally physical affair which, at times, it looked like an entirely different game to the somewhat sedate one that Scotland were involved in. Joe Schmidt was out-smarted on the day – you don’t say that very often – and Ireland were kept try-less but it will have done their younger players like Joey Carbery and Jordan Larmour a world of good to be experience such intensity. Ireland remain genuine World Cup contenders while Scotland are still working out how to exit the pool.
Gregor Townsend will be happy enough with this Canadian result. You can only beat what is put in front of you and Scotland impressed, if only in patches. However, the Scotland coach will have noted with interest one other result from earlier in the weekend. Japan thumped Italy 34-17 in the heat and humidity of Kyushu. Japan are in Scotland’s pool in next year’s World Cup and the Brave Blossoms’ coach Jamie Joseph will be plotting Scotland’s downfall every waking moment he has.