Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has defended the two players who filled in at stand-off against Fiji after regular starter Finn Russell was called up for the British and Irish Lions.
Townsend admitted, however, that his side had never managed to get their attack going as they went down to a 27-22 defeat in Suva, a result that will have dropped them to sixth in the World Rugby rankings when they are published on Monday.
“We now know where we are,” said Townsend. “It was tough on them because the ball was slippy and we did not get enough of our attack going, partly because we dropped the ball but also because we chose to drive line-outs.
“That was a success for us but did mean we could not get into our attack shape as we had in the first two games.
“You have got to see other players as well. Finn (Russell) was outstanding last week and had been good the first week as well. He is with the Lions now and it is great that he is getting that experience.”
Peter Horne started at stand-off but then moved to centre when Duncan Taylor went off. Ruaridh Jackson, whose last outing in the position for Scotland was on the summer tour last year, moved from full-back to take over.
Though Jackson did record his first Test try, the backs struggled to break down Fiji’s defence.
Despite that, Townsend maintained that the tour had been an overall success, with the finale in Fiji providing an enjoyable week despite the game.
“It was a great experience to come here, playing in a different environment, different from anything our players have faced,” he said.
“We are going to have regular games against Polynesian teams – we play Samoa in November and might have one in our World Cup group.
“It is great to face these teams – not so good when you lose but there are areas where we will be a better team from what we learned.”
With two wins from the three games, including a victory over Australia, Townsend feels there were plenty of positives from the tour, only partly undone by the final result.
Captain John Barclay agreed the positives had outweighed the negatives.
“When we play well, we can beat some of the best teams in the world,” he said.
“Last week we played one of the best teams in the world and came away with a win. The flipside is if we don’t play well we make life very hard.
“We have to be at our best to win games and we have known that for a long time now.
“That is a lesson we have learned. We took confidence from the good stuff we have done but we will learn a lot from the game against Fiji as well.”
The Scots won the try count by three to two but their discipline was poor and they were ripped apart by the brilliant handling of Leone Nakarawa and five penalties from fly-half Ben Volavola.
Scotland applied more of the early pressure but their handling in the steady drizzle let them down until home lock Tevita Cavubati was sent to the sin bin for pulling his counterpart Jonny Gray down in the line-out.
Volavola, who won last week’s game against Italy with a late drop goal, had missed a long-range penalty but made no mistake with his second shot from straight in front.
While Scotland were having problems with their handling, Fiji continued to struggle with their discipline, so when they also lost prop Peni Ravai for collapsing a maul, Scotland took full advantage.
They set up a line-out maul and Edinburgh hooker Ross Ford, on the day he broke the Scottish record by winning his 110th cap, claimed his third try of the summer tour.
The islanders ramped up the pressure, with Nakarawa flicking the ball clear from a maul on the Scots 22. Volavola’s cross kick was perfectly placed for Patrick Osborne to claim the ball on the wing and he found flanker Peceli Yano in support to take the scoring pass.
Volavola could not land the conversion but it still meant Scotland were trailing at the break with plenty to do if they were to salvage the result and prolong their winning run.
They were not helped by yet another turnover near the halfway line that allowed Fiji to zoom the ball across the field, where Osborne banged the ball downfield.
Greig Tonks, on at the break for Duncan Taylor, made a mess of clearing up the loose ball, handing the home side a scrum.
They had shots at scoring a try but eventually settled for a penalty, with Volavola doing the honours to give his side a seven-point lead.
Scotland should have got back on level terms when Henry Pyrgos spotted a gap, but he missed his support runners with his pass, only for Fiji to mess up their attempt to clear the ball.
It squirted out straight to Jackson, who had an easy run-in for his first Test try. His conversion levelled the scores, for a few minutes at least, until Volavola put Fiji back in front with a penalty.
Fijian joy was soon doubled when a piece of individual brilliance from Nakarawa saw him break through and offload to replacement scrum-half Henry Seniloli for a brilliant try that pushed the lead out to ten points after Volavola’s conversion.
Scotland did fight back with Fraser Brown grounding at the back of a driving maul, but again their mistakes cost them as they handed the ball back to Fiji after the restart.