After a much-needed bounce-back victory following their abject defeat to Ireland, Jamie Byrne looks at how Scotland achieved their emphatic 34-0 win over Samoa.
With Scotland receiving a scathing judgement after a dismal performance against Ireland last week, it was going to take a hell of a lot to put a smile back on the faces of Scottish rugby fans. Thankfully, that’s exactly what the national team did.
It was a night and day performance against Samoa compared to the Ireland match from Scotland. The anger and embarrassment were evident in the tartan half of the enclosed and extremely humid Misaki Stadium, in the city of Kobe. Scotland were out for retribution, and to put that diabolical display from last week in distant memory.
The intensity and execution were certainly present for Scotland, as an energetic and positive mentality was certainly delivered. Changes were made to the Scotland backline - which was clearly lacking a spark after last week’s display – with a new wing and centre partnership, this fresh-faced backline was determined to prove a point and do the country proud against a tough Samoa side.
The opening minutes showed that the unbearable humidity of the stadium was going to be a prominent factor in the match, with both sides dropping the ball multiple times in the first quarter of the game. However, it would be Scotland who would put the first points on the board, equalling their tally from last week’s shambles with a Laidlaw penalty in the eighth minute, which would go on to set the tone for the remainder of the match.
Scotland were playing some great rugby and really dominating, but were struggling to get more points on the board, with Samoa showing some very brave last man defending. However, Scotland were finally rewarded with their first try of the tournament at the half hour, when they began some positive kicking play through Laidlaw. This led the team up the pitch, ending up with an expertly placed Finn Russell cross kick which fell to the arms of Sean Maitland, who managed to shrug off the remaining Samoan players and earn Scotland their long-awaited try, converted by Laidlaw.
A second Scotland try was added only five minutes later, when Russell continued to charge the Samoan defence, finding a nice little gap for himself to run into, then coolly finding Jamie Ritchie with a smart offload. Ritchie then ran through himself, giving it off to Laidlaw who managed to bounce off Tim Nanai-Williams' struggled tackle and score a try after some pretty lacklustre defending from Samoa. Laidlaw went on to get the extra points, giving Scotland a 17-point advantage with only a few minutes left of the first half. However, with it looking like both teams were keen to get down the tunnel for half time, Stuart Hogg popped up with an absolute thunderous drop goal from about 40 yards out. It flew through the posts and was met by wild celebrations from the players and fans as the wonderful kick capped off a deadly first half for Scotland.
As the jubilant Scottish players marched down the tunnel, I’m sure a proud Gregor Townsend was fully focused on Scotland earning that much needed four-try bonus point in the second half, to keep the nation's world cup dream alive – a dream that had taken such a mighty bump the week before, looked as if the impossible was now very much possible.
The players knew what they had to do, two more tries for that much-needed bonus point. With Samoa offering very little offensively, Scotland could focus on getting the extra points on the board. However, it was clear that the pressure was slightly creeping in for Scotland, struggling to put together the swift attacking plays they had done in the first half. Making a few mistakes, dropping that slippery ball more often and clearly getting tired in the extreme humidity.
However, Scotland were once again rewarded, when the Scots strongly drove a lineout, causing a maul which ended up causing Samoan player Ed Fidow to enter the maul from the side and receive a yellow card, for Scotland to earn themselves a penalty try in the 56th minute of the match. With a very reasonable amount of time remaining for Scotland, that extra point seemed more than manageable and seemingly simple. However, the words manageable and simple aren’t in the vocabulary for Scottish sport, are they? With only a few minutes left, Scotland were desperate for that bonus point, after many failed attempts, Samoa eventually caved as Fidow was given a second yellow for knee clattering Maitland just before the try line, which saw the player be sent off and Scotland receiving a penalty try – and gaining that beautiful bonus point in the 74th minute of the match.
Scotland must be commended for a truly wonderful performance, especially when considering they were so terrible the week before. Townsend’s changes to the backline was very much a risk that really did pay off, and it was matched by the sort of intensity that fans ask of on the biggest stage in world rugby. With Ireland in a shock loss to hosts Japan, it really is an open group for anyone’s taking. It’ll be tough, but Scotland’s World Cup dream is still well and truly alive.