Updated: Jun 22, 2020
I was expecting a reaction from Scotland and we got one in bucket loads. It was not all plain sailing against a determined to Samoan team but the statement of intent was there from the first whistle.
What was also pleasing was the zero on the scoreboard. To whitewash the Samoans was a big part of the mind-set that the players delivered in this game. When you consider that only 7 points or less was the winning margin for Scotland over the Samoans in their last 5 wins, then the margin of 34 points plus the bonus point for scoring 4 tries was a significant milestone.
What caught my eye most of all was the back-row performance. Whilst the front 5 laid the platform messrs; Ritchie, Bradbury and Thomson did exactly what was said on the tin. Ritchie was immense popping up all over the field in link play and in the contact area. His tackling and turnover set the bar high and his synergy with Bradbury and Thomson dominated Samoa’s forwards.
Bradbury can be criticised for falling in and out of games but his ball carrying gave Scotland the front foot ball and time and time again he piled into the contact. That in turn allowed Laidlaw and Russell to dictate the attack but before I focus on their partnership top marks also go to Blade Thomson who rose to the occasion and showed that he can play at international level.
Some of his carries out wide were measured. When ball needed to be tidied or held on to, he did. It was slippy out there with the humidity contributing to many handling errors but Thomson knew exactly that to do and Townsend would have been pleased with his contribution.
Will the leaders please stand up! Jonny Gray won the man of the match award. I had said in my column yesterday that what Gray needed to do was just that! He imposed himself physically on the Samoans and his contribution to the tackle count aided by Gilchrist meant that Samoa could not dominate up front.
If Gray was the pick of the forwards, Stuart Hogg had a commanding performance at full-back. Unlike the Ireland game where I felt he overly forced himself to break the line, this time he allowed things to happen. He was measured in attack and his kicking from hand was exemplary. He knew exactly what to do to keep the pressure on Samoa and some of his grubber kicks were excellent. To cap it all, his 40metre drop goal was someone who had his game head on. It was a touch of class.
You could also add Laidlaw, Russell and Maitland to that group of leaders. The half-backs; who matched Roy Laidlaw and John Rutherford’s half back partnership of number of game played for Scotland would have got a nod of approval from their masters. Laidlaw is often criticised for his slow service but on a night of high drama he needed to be at the top of his game. He got the lead from his forwards and would have been delighted to pick up Scotland’s second try but his goal kicking was also good tonight.
Outside him Finn Russell varied his game. His kick to Sean Maitland was delivered with pin-point accuracy but with Finn purring in his running game you felt the energy sizzle throughout the team.
At 20-0 at halftime Scotland had the job half done but I felt Scotland were a little sloppy with their game management in the second half and they tried to force passes when all that was needed was the pick and drive and driving maul to be more effective. Two penalty tries followed, the second from Maitland after a great attacking movement that started with a Hogg drop out 22. It was certainly tight but the reason that the penalty tries were awarded was the pressure that was being exerted on Samoa.
At last Scotland’s world cup is up and running.