It was a weekend of surprises.
England were 12-0 to the good against South Africa after 13 minutes but failed to add to that score and lost. Scotland scored a cracker of a try against the USA Eagles on exactly 60 seconds after Stuart Hogg sent Blair Kinghorn streaking towards the try line. After 35 minutes the Scots were 21-6 ahead and still the Eagles found a way to win, their first ever against Scotland.
Gregor Townsend fielded a young and inexperienced side several of whom did their prospects no harm at all. George Horne looked lively, won a penalty try and might have scored a second when his brother Peter put him through a gap only for the little scrummy to spill the ball.
His halfback partner also emerged with a heap of positives. The odd kick went astray but more often than not they found their mark and one, midway through the first half, bounced into touch six inches from the corner flag. Adam Hastings looked better in the first half when Scotland had some ball to play with, less impressive when the Eagles dominated possession and the same was true for most of his colleagues, but his final pass for Dougie Fife’s final score was a thing of beauty and could, on another day, have won this match for Scotland.
Instead Blair Kinghorn missed a tricky conversion just as he has missed a much easier penalty attempt in the first half. Perhaps Hastings should have been handed the kicking duties?
Despite those mistakes off the tee Kinghorn was the pick of the Scots. In addition to that early try he made a brilliant break in both halves of the match and he fulfills the same role for Scotland as Izzy Folau does for the Wallabies. Not insulting sexual minorities but instead the leggy winger is tasked with recovering the restarts.
The difference between the two teams was sheer size and bulk and you’ll know what they say when a good big ‘un takes on a good little ‘un. No where was this more evident than in the midfield. Paul Lasike, a Kiwi of Tongan heritage, was up against another Kiwi Nick Grigg with Scottish heritage but the Eagle had an advantage of at least four stones.
It was the same story in the forwards where almost every set scrum ended up with the front row forwards chewing the Houston grass although by the looks of him, the Eagles hooker Joe Taufete’e is accustomed to something a lot more substantial.
The 20 stone hooker scored a try late in the first half and another early in the second to effectively win this match. The second of the scores was truely eye-popping as the four-square hooker brushed off a double tackle from Luke Hamilton and his own opposite number George Turner on his way to the line.
It isn’t just in individual tackles that size matters. The Scots never got to grips with Taufete’e but actually coped with Lasike pretty well. The modern game has numerous breakdowns, 100+ per match, and at just about every one of them someone in blue is having to shunt someone in white off the ball to prevent a turnover. When the opposition are that much bigger/stronger the smaller players are worn out that much faster and Scotland’s second half performance looked weary.
On one occasion Matt Fagerson made the mistake of running straight into Taufete’e and the Scottish number eight was bundled backwards several yards. Fagerson is a talent, hard working, skilled and honest but by international standards he is simply too small to use as a ball carrier and that much was proven in Houston. He also made the mistake under a high ball that led to the final USA try so this was probably one Test to forget for the young breakaway.
Tim Swinson is another honest soldier who will never persuade anyone he is back row material. Scotland could have had an easy second half score, and much nearer the posts, had he passed inside to the supporting George Turner after one run up the right wing late in the game. Not only did Swinson fail to pass, which was poor, he failed to even look, which is criminal.
After an impressive first forty the Scots couldn’t get hands on the ball in the second half and only regained control of this match when they brought some of the big beasts off the reserve bench late in the game, David Denton and Grant Gilchrist were especially effective. Gregor Townsend will rue the fact that the Eagles recorded their first ever win over Scotland at his expense but he knows a lot more about his team now than he did after the Canada game and he also knows that a full Scotland team would not wilt under the Eagles’ second half physical onslaught as this one did.
What might worry the Scotland coach is his players inability to hold onto the slippery ball given all the sweat that Houston’s hot and humid conditions produced. The exact same hot and humid conditions await Scotland in Japan next year.