Samoa V Scotland
Scotland succumbed to disappointing defeat at King’s Park Durban this afternoon in the opening match of the quadrangular tournament against Samoa.
It was the first time in nine Test match meetings with the Pacific Islanders that Scotland had lost, thus joining six nations champions Wales in being on the receiving end of Samoan success this season.
As you would expect, the Samoans were all bustling, bruising physicality and Scotland’s inability to deal with it, coupled with inaccuracy with ball in hand, was at the root of today’s result.
“We are disappointed,” head coach Scott Johnson acknowledged in typically straight-forward manner.
“Defensively we were very poor today and, as a result we lost the contact battles. We were off the clock a little bit, much the same way as we started the Six Nations against England.
“Their tries came from basic, first-up missed tackles.
“We have to get better as the challenge that lies ahead is a pretty daunting one.”
South Africa next up
That challenge to which he referred is host nation, South Africa, currently ranked second in the world, whom the Scots face next Saturday (15 June) in Nelspruit.
Other problems facing Johnston and his management team come from a spate of injuries which also blighted their effort today.
Hooker Pat MacArthur, one of ultimately six new caps, sustained a knee injury in the opening exchanges and had to be replaced by another debutant, Stevie Lawrie.
Captain Kelly Brown suffered an ankle injury in the first-half and did not return for the second, while experienced British Lion, Euan Murray departed in the second-half with a hamstring problem.
The Scotland medical team, Dr Jonathan Hanson and physiotherapists Paul McGinley and Stephen Mutch, face a full-on 48 hours ahead.
Scotland could not have made a much worse start to the occasion in their most vivid nightmares. James So’oialo missed an early penalty for Samoa but from a counter-attack on the Samoan right, the full-back was released for the first try of the game, which he converted from the touchline.
Off the restart, an obstruction penalty, nailed by the combative-as-ever Greig Laidlaw, should have served to settle Scotland, but, instead, defensive frailty was exploited on the left flank for Alesana Tuilagi, playing for the first time in a couple of years having been domiciled in Japan, to dot down the Samoans’ second try, So’oialo goaling again.
Twelve minutes played and Scotland were already on the back foot.
Step forward, the go-to man when it’s a test of physique and, Alasdair Strokosch was not found wanting, attacking off scrappy lineout possession, only for Laidlaw to miscue with a penalty chance.
As the first quarter neared its end, Laidlaw atoned, however, popping over a penalty for a collapsed maul as the Scots surged forward off Alastair Kellock’s lineout catch.
So’oialo erred with a penalty and the game continued in staccato fashion, injuries to Johnnie Beattie and Brown diminishing any prospect of tempo from the Scots.
Laidlaw did pop over another collapsed maul penalty, Kellock again having been the lineout target for 9-14 in 31 minutes.
Half-time: Scotland 9 Samoa 14
Scotland got off to a much more encouraging start to the second period, Laidlaw, who had taken on the captaincy duties, landing his fourth penalty, perfectly judged from distance on the right for 12-14 after 41 minutes and with the pack beginning to offer some grunt, Scotland went on to take the lead for the first time, as, off turnover ball, not even some dodgy hands in midfield, could deprive Sean Lamont of his tenth international try. Laidlaw could not convert from the right touchline.
At 17-14 after 50 minutes, this was a time for Scotland to protect ball. Yet the work from the restart was just not slick enough and Scotland were penalised in the aftermath of a Samoan lineout for So’oialo to level with his first penalty.
Horne and Taylor also win first caps
Peter Horne became the latest new cap as he was introduced after Tom Heathcote had taken a head knock but, into the final quarter, it was Samoa who found breathing space on the scoreboard as Tuilagi charged through off set piece for his second try, which So’oialo converted.
So’oialo notched another penalty to stretch Samoa’s lead to ten points and though Scotland did press inside the final ten minutes, with Strokosch now skipper and all substitutes used, there was insufficient precision to add to their tally.
Meanwhile, in the second game, South Africa crossed for five tries in a 44-10 victory over Italy.
Subs: Stevie Lawrie (Edinburgh Rugby) for MacArthur (10 mins), Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors) for Brown (40 mins), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh Rugby) for Murray (56 mins), Peter Horne (Glasgow Warriors) for Heathcote (59 mins), Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors) for Dickinson and Jim Hamilton (Gloucester Rugby) for Kellock (both 64 mins), Henry Pyrgos (Glasgow Warriors) for Laidlaw and Duncan Taylor (Saracens) for Visser (both 70 mins).
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland).
Man of the Match: Alesana Tuilagi (Samoa).