A solid team performance enhanced by some moments of individual brilliance saw Scotland kick off their Autumn Nations Series campaign with a 10-try victory at Murrayfield. Kyle Steyn became his country’s first player this century to score four tries in a Test match, but Rufus McLean’s contribution was no less important as his two tries ensured the home team got off to a reassured start.
McLean’s double, Steyn’s first three and a Pierre Schoeman touchdown all came in a first half, which ended with the home side 36-9 ahead.
After the break George Turner, Nick Haining and Oli Kebble scored before Steyn wrapped things up on eight minutes. The margin of victory would have been greater but for a 50% conversion rate – three from starting stand-off, Blair Kinghorn, then two from substitute Ross Thompson. That was one shortcoming and the joint captain Ali Price highlighted indiscipline as another, with Rob Harley being shown as yellow card in the second half after repeated team offences.
On the whole, however, it was a satisfactory outing for Scotland, with eight players making their Test debuts.
Tonga were seriously understrength, but the Scotland coach, Gregor Townsend, was also without some key players and will have to think long and hard before deciding to drop all those who served him well for next Sunday’s game against Australia.
“We are pretty pleased,” was Price’s verdict. “There are a few areas where we need to improve. On another day giving away that many penalties could prove costly. For a first run-out, though, it was pretty clinical.”
McLean was certainly clinical in his chance-taking early on, taking advantage of a loose ball to slalom through a wrongfooted defence for his first try, then collecting a looping pass from Kinghorn to run in the second from 40 metres out.
Two penalties from James Faiva kept Tonga in touch, but Scotland soon scored their third, with Sione Tuipulotu finding a gap in defence and providing the scoring pass for Steyn. A third Faiva penalty took the score to 19-9, but that was as good as it got for Tonga.
Schoeman bulldozed over from close range for his team’s fourth try after a penalty had been sent to touch, Steyn came into the line for his second and the wing completed his hat-trick two minutes before the break after winning the race for a Kinghorn punt into the in-goal area.
With an emphatic half-time advantage, Scotland took their foot off the pedal somewhat in a second half that began in stuttering fashion. With half an hour to play, however, a penalty to touch produced try No 7, finished off by Turner.
Harley was then sent to the sin-bin for not rolling away as Tonga pressed hard for their first try. They got it within a minute of the flanker’s departure, as the tighthead prop, David Lolohea, finished off from very close range, but any thought of a sustained fightback ended when Aisea Halo followed Harley to the bin after interference in the air on McLean.
With 10 minutes to play Haining scored Scotland from close range after Sam Johnson had been held up, and Kebble added a ninth five minutes further on. Thompson converted the latter try and completed the scoring in added time added after Steyn had claimed his fourth try in the dying seconds.
Scotland’s superior fitness had a lot to do with the size of the victory and the high tempo they maintained had the Tongans struggling from early in the game. But McLean’s scores were largely down to sheer turn of pace, while he also created Steyn’s third try with an audacious break from deep within his own half.
That score was the most graphic illustration of the discrepancy between the teams, as Steyn was able to chase down Kinghorn’s kick to in-goal area with only Lolohea in attendance to offer a very faint challenge in the sprint.
Tonga will welcome some reinforcements as they prepare for their meeting with England at Twickenham next Saturday. They will need them all, although their assistant coach Grant Doorey praised the effort put in by all those involved here.
“The 23 guys we had were the best available and I thought they did a fantastic job,” he said.