Scotland slumped to a third defeat in the EMC Tests as Tonga turned over the hosts in Aberdeen, recording a shock 15-21 victory in the North East.
In front of a capacity crowd at Pittodrie, Greig Laidlaw slotted five penalties from six but it was two tries from the visitors from the southern hemisphere that sealed the win and left Scotland to answer some very difficult questions about their performance.
In a candid and emotionally charged press conference, Andy Robinson faced up to the poor performance of the team: “The performance was totally unacceptable and I’m very angry."
“I’d like to apologise to the fans who turned up here to watch us. There will be consequences as a result of today. We’re going to look at everything.”
Tonga outfought and outmatched Scotland across the pitch, in typical South Seas style. Robinson said: “ We knew it was going to be a tough game. They dominated well and fought us at the breakdown. It became disjointed and the game became a fight and a mess.
‘This is rugby at the highest level but you’ve got to deal with it.
Asked about how he viewed the performance and what it meant for him personally, Robinson was honest and direct.
“The performance reflects me as a coach”
Tonga went ahead after three minutes with the first of numerous penalties, Fangatpu ‘Apitoka with the first points of the afternoon.
Greig Laidlaw had a chance to level the scores but his first kick of the day, which would be his only miss, came back off the upright.
On ten minutes Scotland were back on level terms with Laidlaw this time successful from just off centre.
A long exchange of scrums, penalties and lineouts began with Scotland appearing to go over for the score. The TMO, Carlo Damasco of Italy ruled otherwise, however, and the hosts were denied the try.
A series of scrums, penalties and lineouts dominated the following exchanges but the forwards were unable to penetrate some stout Tongan tackling.
It was the back line which created the first clear cut chance, Laidlaw scything through a gap in the defensive line and feeding Alasdair Strokosch, he was isolated however, and his attempted offload found space and a Tongan hand.
On thirty-two minutes, the Tongans were down to fourteen men, the first of three such occasions during the eighty, as Tukulua Lokotui was sin binned for bringing his opposite man at the lineout to ground.
The half ended with Laidlaw nudging the home side in front after the pack won another penalty at the scrum.
The opening minutes of the second half started promisingly for Scotland with Al Kellock, Stuart Hogg and Sean Lamont bright sparks for the men in dark blue.
Lamont had the crowd on its feet as he made 40 metres through the broken field but such was the nature of the day, Tonga won turnover ball at the breakdown.
Laidlaw was able to stretch the lead to six points (9-3) with six minutes of the second half gone - ‘Apikotoa had the chance to narrow the lead back to three but his penalty chance fell short.
On fifty two minutes the TMO was again called into action but this time for the Tongans. There was not much to debate as Lokotui was awarded the score after strong work again around the loose.
Laidlaw put Scotland back in front with the boot with his fourth then fifth successful kicks of the day, at that point Scotland’s lead looked to be increasingly assured at 15-10 with 20 minutes remaining.
But then, three minutes later, the Tongan stand-off, ‘Apikotoa struck again to bring them within two points; just two minutes later Scotland were facing an uphill battle.
The defensive line was posted missing as Tongan winger Fetu'u Vainikolo found himself in what seemed like yards of space and the despairing dives of the trailing Scottish defenders were left in his wake as he raced home. The conversion was missed so Scotland remained just three points adrift.
Tom Heathcote may have wished his debut for Scotland to have been a slightly less nervy affair as he was introduced for Laidlaw and in his first meaningful action, a penalty attempt came up short.
By this time the Tongans were again down to fourteen men, the captain Nili Latu sent to the sin bin for clambering over the top of a ruck.
Scotland seemed intent on being their own worst enemy and as Tonga took a lineout, their jumper was taken in the air. ‘Apikotoa made no mistake as Tonga took a six point lead.
Substitute Sione Timani was sent to the sin bin for an off-the-ball tip on replacement scrum-half Rory Lawson, and Tonga were momentarily reduced to just thirteen men before Latu rejoined the field of play.
Despite desperate and intense efforts over the last five minutes, and a numerical advantage over the opposition, Scotland couldn’t break the defences or the work of the Tongans around the fringes.
The Tongans, in fact, aimed to finish with a flourish and won turnover ball. The inside-centre Sione Piukala set off on a foot race but rather than kick to touch to end the game on the stroke of eighty minutes, Scotland themselves won the ball back as the visitors knocked on.
The idea of a glorious, last gasp comeback was kept for the storybooks on this occasion and as the ball was fed on this cold, clear afternoon in Aberdeen, Heathcote knocked-on to signal the end of a desperately difficult day for Scotland.
15. Stuart Hogg 14. Sean Lamont 13.Max Evans (Sub, Nick De Luca 59) 12. Matt Scott 11. Tim Visser 10. Greig Laidlaw (Sub, Tom Heathcote 66)
9. Henry Pyrgos (Sub, Rory Lawson 52)
1.Kyle Traynor 2. Scott Lawson (Sub, Dougie Hall 51) 3. Euan Murray 4. Richie Gray 5. Alastair Kellock 6. Alasdair Strokosch 7. Kelly Brown (Capt.) 8. David Denton (Sub, John Barclay 52)
16. Dougie Hall 17. Gordon Reid 18. Geoff Cross 19. Grant Gilchrist 20. John Barclay 21. Rory Lawson 22. Tom Heathcote 23. Nick De Luca
15 Vungakoto Lilo 14. Fetu’u Vainikolo 13. Sukanaivalu Hufanga (Sub Fatafehi, 66) 12. Sione Piukala 11. Will Helu
10. Fangatapu ‘Apikotoa 9. Moa
1. Alisona Taumalolo 2. Elvis Taione (Sub, Ma’asi 69) 3. Halani ‘Aulika (Sub, Mailau 45) 4. Joe Tu’ineau (Sub, Timani 74) 5. Tukulua Lokotoi
6. Hale T-Pole 7. Nili Latu (Capt) 8. Villiami Ma’afu
16. Ilaisa Ma’asi 17. Tevita Mailau 18. Kamaliele Sakalia 19. Sitiveni Mafi
20. Sione Timani 21. Viliame ‘Ilongi 22. Eddie Paea 23. ‘Alipate Fatafehi
Ref: Mathieu Raynal (FFR)
AR1: George Clancy (IRFU)
AR2: Marius Mitrea (FIR)