UNITED STATES 30
By Stuart Bathgate
At the BBVA Compass Stadium
A MATCH that began so well for Scotland ended in a frustrating defeat in Houston – their first by the United States, and the first win for the Eagles against any Tier One nation. It was Blair Kinghorn’s try that opened the scoring within the first minute, and Blair Kinghorn’s missed conversion that ended the game. Between those two acts by the winger we witnessed a match in which the USA slowly got on top, playing more intelligently against a Scottish side in which seven men were starting an international for the first time. Stand-off Aj MacGinty marshalled his forces superbly, while Scotland cried out for someone able to exert similar control.
Ahead 24-13 at half-time, Scotland slumped badly in the third quarter as the Americans ran in 13 unanswered points. For Gregor Townsend, a combination of errors and poor discipline was the explanation for a period of play which saw the game slip slowly away from his side.
“We gave them momentum in that third quarter through ill discipline,” the head coach said. “A couple of penalties gave them field position. They had a lot of possession in that area and got a try through an error – which happens especially when the ball is slippery.
“It certainly was not the plan, We felt we had done some good things in the first half and when we added pace to the game we found space and scored those tries. I still felt we could have been better but it was a shame that did not happen, obviously. The third quarter was when the game changed.
“We were not that disciplined in the first half but it cost us more in the second half than the second. The final 15 to 20 minutes we were much better but were maybe too eager at times, got offside and didn’t release around the tackle area. Those are soft penalties to give away.”
The first score came when captain Stuart Hogg dummied inside then put Kinghorn in for a clear run to the line. The right-winger converted from out wide, too, to give the tourists the perfect start – and the perfect example of what the captain had said beforehand was the plan, to score in a few phases rather than plodding steadily through a dozen or more before approaching the line.
After being slow out of the blocks, the US steadily got into their stride, and tested the Scots defence with a couple of high balls. Their pressure eventually produced a kickable opportunity for MacGinty, and the Dublin-born stand-off made no mistake from the edge of the 22.
Kinghorn had a chance to respond not long after that score when an American defender had failed to roll away, but his kick was wide. That brought the first quarter to an end, play then stopped for a couple of minutes for a pre-arranged water break.
The chance to regroup served Scotland well, and after gradually turning the screw they stretched their lead with a penalty try.
Pete Horne had twisted clear of several defenders before passing to his brother George, and the scrum-half was stopped just short of the line by a high tackle from Samu Manoa. Wayne Barnes went to the TMO to see whether Horne had touched the ball against the pads, and when the replay showed it was only his feet that had made contact, the official awarded a penalty try and yellow-carded Manoa.
The Americans soon responded with a second penalty from MacGinty, but Scotland were not long in claiming a third try, with last week’s hat-trick hero George Turner getting it. The lineout maul had been the most potent weapon against the Canadians, and it worked perfectly here as Turner threw in to Toolis, who drove the first phase then managed to get it back to the hooker who finished off from a meter out.
Kinghorn’s conversion made it 21-3, but the USA then got their first try of the night when hooker Joe Taufete’e finished off a powerful series of drives close to the posts. MacGinty converted, then in the last kick of the half Kinghorn added another penalty. Scotland just about deserved the double-figure lead which that score restored to them, but there was still a lot of work to do to subdue opponents whose self-confidence was high after winning their last six games.
That much was proven after 43 minutes when Taufete’e scored again, taking a leaf out of Scotland’s book with a driven lineout. The first push was held up, but the hooker got possession at the back of the maul, and powered his way past four Scottish defenders before touching down. MacGinty’s conversion reduced the deficit to a mere four points, and that was slashed to one two minutes later when the No 10 added a third penalty.
An excellent break by Kinghorn briefly had Scotland in the ascendancy, but an injury to Luke Hamilton caused a moment of disruption, with Fraser Brown coming on in the back row for the openside. More control was needed, and Townsend attempted to supply it by first bringing Grant Gilchrist on for Lewis Carmichael, and then replacing both props at the same time as bringing Mark Bennett on for Nick Grigg.
The tide turns
By that time the US had come close to taking the lead, being thwarted only by another dropped ball in the Scots 22. Right on the 60th minute they did take the lead, this time thanks to a dropped ball by debutant No 8 Matt Fagerson.
Hogg and MacGinty had traded kicks, and when the American 10 sent another chip forward, Fagerson spilled, allowing the stand-off to gather and put openside Hanco Germishuys in at the left corner. MacGinty’s conversion put Scotland deep in trouble.
Townsend introduced more fresh legs, with Dave Denton coming on for Matt Fagerson and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne replacing George Horne, and a fine break by Kinghorn set up a great attacking position. Tim Swinson came close to crossing on the right, and then Bennett did go over the line, only to be tackled as he attempted to touch down. The referee again went to the TMO, and the ruling was that the substitute had not grounded before losing the ball forward.
Dougie Fife became the last away sub of the night with eight minutes left, and Scotland’s fitness began to tell as they pressed deeper and deeper into the US half. Twice lineouts were driven to within five metres of the line: the first was spread wide after being halted, in the second the ball was lost forward. The US had the chance to wind down the remaining minute, but two men went off their feet at the ruck and Scotland kicked the penalty to touch. The drive was again stopped short, and with the tourists coming ever closer to the line, play was halted briefly for a head knock to flanker John Quill. Play restarted with the lineout, two minutes into overtime, and the US were ready with some ferocious defence.
With 84 minutes on the clock Hastings floated a long pass out to Fife, and the winger sped over the line to touch down in the corner. Kinghorn’s conversion attempt failed to curl in, falling wide of the far post, and a partisan home crowd began to celebrate a victory that will go down in the history of US rugby.
After the solid win a week earlier in Edmonton, the defeat has, temporarily at least, brought an end to the positive momentum that has been building since the initial training camp back home in Edinburgh. The squad now travel to Argentina overnight into Monday, knowing that a win against the Pumas is essential if this three-match tour is to be deemed a success.
United States of America: W Hooley; B Scully, B Campbell, P Lasike, M Brache; A MacGinty, S Davies; E Fry, J Taufete’e, P Mullen, S Manoa, N Civetta, J Quill, H Germishuys, C Dolan. Substitutes: D Fawsitt, T Lamositele, C Baumann, G Peterson, B Landry, N Augspurger, W Magie, D Audsley.
Scotland: S Hogg; B Kinghorn, N Grigg, P Horne, B McGuigan; A Hastings, G Horne; J Bhatti, G Turner, Z Fagerson, L Carmichael, B Toolis, T Swinson, L Hamilton, M Fagerson. Substitutes: F Brown, A Dell, M McCallum, G Gilchrist, D Denton, S Hidalgo-Clyne, M Bennett, D Fife.
Scorers: USA: Tries: Taufete’e 2, Germishuys. Cons: MacGinty 3. Pens: MacGinty 3.
Scotland: Tries: Kinghorn, penalty try, Turner, Fife. Cons: Kinghorn 2. Pen: Kinghorn.
Scoring sequence: 0-5, 0-7, 3-7, 3-14, 6-14, 6-19, 6-21, 11-21, 13-21, 13-24 half-time, 18-24, 20-24, 23-24, 28-24, 30-24, 30-29.
Yellow card: US: Manoa.
Referee: W Barnes (England).