Scotland concluded their 2016 Autumn Tests with a comfortable six tries to two victory over Georgia at Rugby Park, Kilmarnock this afternoon.
The Scots went one better than the five tries they had managed against Tonga during the previous time international rugby came to Ayrshire and, particularly during the first-half, played with enough zip and dynamism to leave the result beyond any doubt.
It’s now 70 days until the national team take the field again – versus Ireland at the start of the 2017 Royal Bank of Scotland 6 Nations Championship – and there will be sufficient to ponder from the last three weeks with a one-point defeat against Australia and a last-gasp success against Argentina to add to today’s win.
There have been three new caps this month – Allan Dell, Magnus Bradbury and, today, Ali Price – and the emergence for the home support of an exceptional talent in Huw Jones. When the likes of Alasdair Dickinson and WP Nel return from their recovery it will add to an interesting selection choice for head coach Vern Cotter.
There was a sizable and vocal Georgian support in Rugby Park as the visitors kicked off towards the Moffat Stand.
Scotland were reassuringly solid at the first scrum and Stuart Hogg released Tommy Seymour for a quick scamper up the main stand touchline.
Georgia won the first penalty and from a driven lineout the ball bobbled out of the advancing maul. Scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze reacted quickest and scooted up the touchline evading Greig Laidlaw’s tackle for a fifth minute try. Kvirikashvili missed the conversion.
Scotland responded at once and from slick hands by Allan Dell and Ryan Wilson, Hogg’s judiciously weighted kick ahead was dotted down by Seymour for his 14th try for Scotland, duly confirmed by TMO Simon McDowell. Laidlaw’s fine conversion was an “in-off” and Scotland led 7-5 after eight minutes.
Scotland opted for the touchline with a 12th minute penalty but their advancing maul was halted as a Georgian player ripped it clear. However, the clearance enabled Scotland to plot another score. Richie Gray caught at the lineout and referee Carley awarded a penalty try as the Georgians thwarted the drive illegally, resulting in Konstantine Mikautadze being yellow-carded. Laidlaw converted.
Finn Russell was pinged for a marginal failure to release in a tackle and Kvirikashvili landed a penalty for 14-8 after 16 minutes.
The game continued at a cracking lick and from a sustained Scotland attack Maitland’s footwork took him over for the hosts’ third try. Laidlaw converted from the right touchline and Scotland led 21-8 as the first quarter ended.
Laidlaw’s accuracy from the kicking tee stretched Scotland’s advantage to 24-8 with a 28th minute penalty but it was cancelled out by a penalty from Kvirikashvili as the Georgian scrum waxed strong in the 32nd minute (24-11).
Scotland struck again – and just as he did against Tonga two years ago, Stuart Hogg gladdened the hearts of the home support in the Chadwick stand. Released by Russell who had fielded a Georgian clearance, the full-back enjoyed a “Hawick stot” as he gathered his own chip-kick ahead to sprint home for Scotland’s fourth try and his 12th for Scotland. Laidlaw goaled again imperiously. (31-11, 35 minutes).
The crowd hardly had time to draw breath before the action re-ignited. Richie Gray gathered at a lineout, Zander Fagerson on the assist and Hamish Watson crashed over for his first try for Scotland. Laidlaw converted (38-11, 42 mins).
Georgia’s backs showed some nifty footwork on the right and Scotland were twice penalised close to their own goal-line. From the second offence, the Georgians opted to scrum and a monster shunt later, Lobzhanidze picked up for his second try. The conversion went astray (38-18, 55 mins).
The second-half had become a mix of scrums and breakdown attrition and the Scotland support yearned for a big finish.
Low was yellow-carded in the 73rd minute and Scotland emptied their bench as debutant Ali Price joined the fray to become Scotland cap number 1079, with John Barclay assuming the captaincy for Laidlaw who had goaled 13 points with 100% precision.
That finish that was on the home wish-list materialised. Price brought the urgency that has been a hallmark of his displays for Glasgow Warriors with a tap penalty inside his own 22. He blazed for 25 metres, found his team-mate Rory Hughes and the winger unleashed Hogg for his second try of the afternoon – a beauty – and a grand note on which to end.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg; Sean Maitland, Mark Bennett, Alex Dunbar, Tommy Seymour; Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw captain; Allan Dell, Ross Ford, Zander Fagerson, Richie Gray, Jonny Gray, Rob Harley, Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson.
Substitutes: Fraser Brown for Ford (51), Alex Allan for Dell (55), Moray Low for Fagerson (24-36 mins, then 55), Grant Gilchrist for Jonny Gray (74), John Barclay for Barclay (47 mins), Ali Price for Laidlaw (74), Peter Horne for Bennet (62) and Rory Hughes for Maitland (51).
Georgia: Merab Kvirikashvili; Giorgi Aptsiauri, Merab Sharikadze, Tamaz Mchedlidze, Alexandre Todua; Lasha Malaguradze, Vasil Lobzhanidze; Mikheil Nariashvili, Jaba Bregvadze, Levan Chilachava, Konstantine Mikautadze, Giorgi Nemsadze, Viktor Kolelishvili, Mamuka Gorgodze captain, Beka Bitsadze.
Substitutes: Badri Alkhazashvili for Bregvadze (48), Karlen Asieshvili for Nariashvili (48), Davit Kubriashvili for Chilachava (48), Lasha Lomidze for Mikautadze (42-47mins), Giorgi Tkhilaishvili, Giorgi Begadze for Kririkashvili (74), Beka Tsiklauri for Aptsiauri (21 mins), Shalva Sutiashvili for Nemsadze (61)
Referee: Matthew Carley (England).
Peter Vardy Man of the Match: Ryan Wilson (Scotland).