Scotland beat Samoa to diminish the pain of deserved defeat to Ireland in their Rugby World Cup opener, but it was hardly a performance to inspire hope that Gregor Townsend’s men can make the knockout stages.
Sean Maitland and Greig Laidlaw scored tries in the first half but it took half an hour for Scotland to hit anywhere near something which could be considered a stride. And they struggled in the second half as Samoa defended manfully and frustrated the Dark Blues.
Two penalty tries eventually earned them a 34-0 bonus point win they desperately needed but barely deserved.
JAPAN WON’T BE WORRIED
MOTM | Jonny Gray is named Man of the Match following a solid shift in the Scotland shirt. 👏 pic.twitter.com/tleJPAnDFi— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) September 30, 2019
Following Japan’s joy in defeating Ireland – a victory full of vigour and vibrancy – Scotland fans would have been hoping for a convincing and stylish victory of their own. They didn’t get it. The Dark Blues were dynamic for short bursts, but these disappeared as quickly as they arrived, with too many turnovers (20) puncturing their positive play.
Stuart Hogg was a handful all game for the Pacific Islanders, while Finn Russell showed occasional bits of brilliance too, but it was all too brief. This was not the rambunctious, ruthless show of Scottish spirit and superiority that was needed to make the Brave Blossoms quiver.
Jamie Joseph’s side, of course, will still harbour ambitions of topping the pool. They are looking at the bigger picture after making huge strides in the years proceeding the shock over South Africa in 2015.
While the Dark Blues have also started to slowly emerge from the dark days of what has been the last two decades, in World Cup year and at the tournament itself they seem to have regressed and taken a few steps back. Their picture seems murkier than ever.
BELATED BONUS POINT
Well, Scotland got the bonus point victory they craved, which was the minimum required from this game, but it was a grim watch.
Four tries were scored by Scotland but two of them were given by the referee. And you feel the bonus point score might not have even been secured had it not been for Ed Fidow’s late red card for tackling Maitland with his knee as opposed to his hands in the act of diving for the tryline.
At the end of the day, a win is a win, and everyone has to win ugly at times. But there is massive room for improvement from the Scots.
There were signs of life early on when they scored two eye-catching tries, not to mention two of their own, through Maitland and Laidlaw. Then there was Hogg’s humongous drop goal that had the Glasgow full-back punching the air and those wearing kilts dancing inside the stadium. But after that the performance fell hugely flat.
The humidity in Kobe was certainly a killer, with players even seen sweating during the singing of the anthems. But this was hardly a performance to strike fear into the Japanese… or anyone else for that matter.
GREGOR LOSING GRIP
You wonder whether Townsend is already fearing for his future as the national team boss, or if his paymasters are casting an eye towards the horizon.
After all, having sparked something of a revival since his 2017 arrival, he is now failing to find inspiration when it counts the most.
It’s not as if this Scotland side is devoid of talent. In premium playmaker Russell and talisman Hogg they have a duo capable of the spectacular. Aided by emerging speed merchant Darcy Graham on one wing, the seasoned Maitland on the other plus a smattering of stardust throughout the rest of the back line – Laidlaw, Sam Johnson and Blair Kinghorn – the Dark Blues are peppered with playmakers who can make a difference.
This is not a discussion about Scotland underperforming despite having secured passage to the knockout stages. Their tournament future is under a very real threat from the tournament hosts who have sparkled, while Scotland stutter at the other end of the spectrum.
If Scotland exit at the pool stage, they are not the only thing that will be out; the knives will be too.
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