Scotland got off to a winning start in their autumn series with this victory against Samoa in a game that started slowly but finished in a flurry of tries which made it the highest scoring international the old stadium has ever hosted.
The Scots led from almost the first whistle to the last, they scored six tries, two of which went to Stuart McInally, against five from the visitors in a free-scoring game of Super Rugby but for long periods the home side failed to stamp their authority on a team that is placed below Romania and Georgia in World Rugby’s pecking order.
Scotland started brightly with a score inside the opening two minutes. Finn Russell kicked into space behind the Samoan defensive line, Tommy Seymour hacked ahead and the odd shape of a rugby ball did the rest, the bounce beating the covering full-back Ah See Tuala and falling perfectly for his opposite number Stuart Hogg.
At the age of 25 Scotland’s full-back is already fourth equal in the national scoring records with 17 tries to his name. He sits alongside some illustrious names: Gavin Hastings, Alan Tait and, er, the gaffer Gregor Townsend. Sadly for Scotland, not everything that followed went quite as smoothly as the opening exchanges.
The Scots defence on or near their own tryline was soft and spineless; coach Matt Taylor must have had kittens during the match and a headache after it. If the Scots repeat this porous performance next weekend New Zealand will score a century.
Every time the home team threatened to take control of proceedings they conceded another score to give Samoa points and precious self-belief. When the Scots finally kicked the ball dead at full time the cheer from the Murrayfield crowd was one of relief more than anything else.
Part of the problem is Townsend’s stated aim to play with pace throughout. This they did but it led to a slew of individual handling errors, many of them unforced and every one of them allowing Samoa off the hook. Scotland would attack and while six tries is a decent haul they should have been into double figures.
The Samoans suffered a shaky start but grew in confidence as the game progressed without ever coming close to the physical force of nature of yesteryear’s teams. Tim Nanai-Williams plays ten like the full-back he is, brilliant with the ball in hand but his kicking game is a work in progress.
TJ Ioane carried tirelessly and Jack Lam was a nuisance at the breakdown but that was about that and still Scotland’s midfield defence gifted the islanders enough time and space to look much better than they were. Samoa scored five tries in all, four of which came from short range pick and drives into the soft centre of Scotland’s forward pack.
After swapping early tries, the Scots were leading 13-10 around the half hour mark. The match lacked any real direction so Huw Jones took matters into his own hands, stepping out of some ineffectual tackles to touch down in the left hand corner.
McInally then took full advantage of Fraser Brown’s injury, the Edinburgh hooker scoring two tries from driven lineouts, one at the death of the first 40 to open his international account, a second five minutes into the second half to give his team a handy lead.
At 32-10 ahead Scotland should have kicked on but instead they kicked back and allowed Samoa to muscle their way to the Scottish try line where flanker Piula Fa’asalele grafted the ball over the line. It looked like the grounding failed due to a Scottish boot but the TMO Simon McDowell has history with Scotland and the Irishman awarded the score.
With Samoa making a contest of things, Townsend went to the bench, with Chris Harris and Jamie Bhatti earning their first caps alongside South African Cornell du Preez who made his third appearance. It didn’t have the desired effect because Nanai-Williams scored Samoa’s third of the afternoon after his forwards had been thwarted and Kieron Fonotia followed him over the line after Scotland made a mess of a restart, one of a number they fluffed.
Thankfully for the home fans Alex Dunbar touched down for the home team, in between the Samoan scores, after Peter Horne’s chip kick was fielded by Lee Jones. The replacement stand-off then scored himself thanks to a neat inside pass from du Preez before converting his own try.
It was fitting that the final word went to Samoa whose replacement Ofisa Treviranus ran through the middle of a ruck to score from 20 yards out to finish off this bizarre international.