Scots glide to victory but fail to spread their wings

Scotland 37

Romania 10

THERE was no embarrassment as Scotland cantered to a five-try-to-one victory at Murrayfield on Saturday; no humiliating defeat to the team ranked 16th in the world. But, the viewing on Saturday did not help put the Scots’ performance into a comfortable context.

In terms of the 80 minutes in Edinburgh, this was indeed a comfortable win for a Scotland team playing its first game of the season against an underrated side which has mastered the art of stultifying disruption in four recent matches.

However, compared with England’s win over New Zealand, the Irish defeat of Australia and France’s convincing victory at home to South Africa - Scotland’s next opponents - this was a performance which highlighted enough areas of concern to make home supporters fear next weekend.

The Scottish forwards met head-on the challenge of the powerful Romanian pack - seven of whom play their club rugby in France - and Bruce Douglas marked his debut at tighthead with an impressive display. The lineouts mostly went well, albeit two being lost to aggressive Romanian defence, one after the conductor Scott Murray had been replaced late in the game.

But one statistic leaps out from the notepad: only seven of the 165 passes completed by Scotland made it to the wing. Debutant Nikki Walker and Chris Paterson, two of the team’s quickest and most clinical finishers, will rarely have touched the ball on fewer occasions in a match, and the sight of Paterson needlessly battering into rucks late on merely highlighted for this viewer how frustrated he had become.

Why that statistic was so telling was simply because it was when the ball was moved wide, with passes well-timed, that Scotland were at their most dangerous and tries scored.

After Stuart Grimes had opened the Scots’ account just six minutes in with his third Test try, powerfully finishing a driven lineout, it wasn’t until three minutes from half-time that the hosts crossed the Romanian line again.

By that stage many in the stands were screaming for the ball to be moved to Walker and Paterson. Man-of-the-match Martin Leslie made the decisive break deep into the visitors’ half and the ball was quickly recycled. Passes whizzed from Redpath to Gordon Ross, to Brendan Laney and Andy Craig, and the centre’s superbly-timed pass to Paterson opened Romania up. The Edinburgh winger needed no second invitation and duly floored the accelerator to burst through and over the line from 20 metres.

The tight Scottish tactics might have been a touch restrictive considering how Romania were vulnerable when stretched, but they appeared more so due to the failure of players to take possession through numerous phases, arguably this team’s most debilitating weakness.

Despite the Romanians’ well-known ability to slow attacks and kill them, often illegally - and South African referee Andy Turner’s remarkable reluctance to sin-bin offenders - securing possession was not a problem for the Scots. They won 14 of their own scrums and stole one of Romania’s, and claimed 19 of Gordon Bulloch’s 21 lineout throws and grasped four from his opposite number Marius Tincu of Pau.

The hard graft up front and sound tackling through the side saw Scotland enjoy more than 29 minutes in possession to less than 18 minutes for Romania, and, perhaps more startling, nearly 65 minutes of a total 88 in the Romanian half.

In those areas of the game, dominating possession and territory, the Scottish team performed superbly, and that achievement should not be under-estimated. Yet, it remains only one half of the game, and the Scots were below par in the other, crucial half - finishing.

Decision-making at key moments, ineffective rucking and handling errors were chief among the reasons, and whilst it might be accurate to state as McGeechan did that Romania made it tough, there is no doubt the Springboks will be significantly tougher. And we know which team McGeechan and his players wish to be closer to.

Gordon Ross has still some work to do to become the kind of confident playmaker needed at this level. He was tested and it is doubtful he did enough to keep the No10 jersey with Gregor Townsend breathing down his neck, but he has quality and will learn with more time spent in this environment.

If Laney’s two penalties and two conversions before the interval eased nerves, taking Scotland into a 20-3 lead, then Leslie’s tenth international try in 27 games three minutes into the second half lifted the mood and Pountney’s after 55 minutes sparked delight.

Both scores owed everything to the composure often lacking in the side, as a host of players were denied in spirited drives to the Romanian line only for cool recycling and control to prise open the Oaks’ defence for the flankers to take advantage.

Scotland’s final score came in the final minute and provided some lustre for debutant Stuart Moffat, the strong and enterprising full-back. With Townsend on for Ross and spreading the ball more quickly, it sped from Redpath to the fly-half and to Laney, who sent a well-timed miss pass wide to Moffat, and he powered into the left-hand corner.

Lazy defending was seized upon and a series of Romanian drives ended with fly-half Ionut Tofan superbly picking up a loose ball with one swipe after a series of drives near the Scotland line and diving over. He duly converted to add seven points to his first-half penalty.

There was never a danger Scotland would let this game slip, and the vital factor is that it has provided a winning start to the international season.

The building now begins in earnest and anyone who thought Scotland’s steps from here to the World Cup were anything but steep, has now been afforded a reality check.

Scorers: Scotland: Tries - Grimes, Paterson, Leslie, Pountney, Moffat. Pens - Laney (2). Cons - Laney (3). Romania: Try - Tofan. Pen - Tofan. Con - Tofan.

Scotland: S Moffat; N Walker, A Craig, B Laney, C Paterson; G Ross, B Redpath; T Smith, G Bulloch, B Douglas, S Murray, S Grimes, M Leslie, S Taylor, B Pountney. Subs: N Hines for Murray, M Stewart for Smith, both 63mins, G Townsend for Ross, J Petrie for Taylor, both 72, B Hinshelwood for Craig 74, Smith for Stewart 78, S Scott for Leslie 80.

Romania: G Brezoianu; I Teodorescu, V Maftei, R Gontineac (capt), V Ghioc; I Tofan, P Mitu; P Balan, M Tincu, D Dima, A Petrichei, C Petre, F Corodeanu, A Petrache, G Chiriac. Subs: P Toderasc for Dima, S Dragnea for Petrichei, both 40mins, L Sirbu for Mitu, 51, C Mersiou for Petrache 60, M Sociacu for Balan 64.

Referee: A Turner (South Africa). Att: 34,413