STUART BATHGATE @ The Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton
A FIRST hurdle successfully cleared. Not with supreme aplomb, perhaps, and not without a fair few flaws, but as an initial outing of Scotland’s three-match tour this was just about as good as could be expected.
True, Canada were not the toughest of opponents, only threatening sporadically, with their sole scores coming from a debatable penalty try and a very early penalty. But, apart from a brief spell in either half, Gregor Townsend’s team were invariably in control of the game here in Edmonton.
They scored seven tries – three for George Turner, making him the first Scot to score a hat-trick in a Test since Ali Hogg against Romania in 2007, with the others coming from Byron McGuigan, Ruaridh Jackson, Magnus Bradbury and debutant Lewis Carmichael. James Lang, Jamie Ritchie and Adam Hastings – like Carmichael, a second-half substitute – also made their debuts – and the former in particular showed up well before being forced off by a head knock.
The searing heat of Houston will be a trickier proposition than this mild, drizzly evening, and the United States will be more formidable opponents than the Canadians, but Townsend was justifiably content with most of what he had seen from his team. “While there were some frustrations with parts of the game, it was great that we got over that,” the head coach said. “We worked hard and came away with a good win.
“We were slow out of the blocks – there was a period in that first half when we didn’t execute as well as we had done in training. That’s the difference between training and playing in a game, especially with a team that has never played before – some players who have never played for Scotland and some who have only got to know their team-mates a few weeks ago.”
Asked what had pleased him most, Townsend continued: “The impact of the bench, that the half-backs upped the pace of the game and took it to the opposition. Adam came on, got those passes from the forwards and had a go at the defence, Ali Price added pace to the game, Lewis Carmichael had a brilliant impact and George Turner had three – that was pleasing. There was a lot of hard work that maybe didn’t lead to points, but did maybe lead to tiring the opposition and also to getting a collection of penalties for those mauls we could go to time and time again.”
Scotland drove their first lineout some 20 metres, then a series of phases was ended illegally just shy of the line, allowing Sam Hidalgo-Clyne to score the first points of the game – and his first ever for Scotland – with a penalty from in front of the posts. The scrum-half seemed close to adding a try minutes later after a kick ahead by Blair Kinghorn, but as he was tackled he tried to pass backwards but instead only managed to find touch.
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Scotland would not be denied their opening score, however, and it came when a stray pass in midfield was gathered by Lang, who floated a long pass out to McGuigan. As two defenders closed in, the winger dived for the line, squeezing in under their bodies. Hidalgo-Clyne’s conversion attempt was wide of the left post.
Canada then got off the mark with a Shane O’Leary penalty, but they went a man down just after the quarter-hour when loosehead Noah Barker was sinbinned for a nasty off-the-ball tackle on Allan Dell. Scotland’s next attack ended with Jackson touching down close to the spot where McGuigan had scored, but the try was chalked off for a knock-on after the full-back touched down just shy of the line before nudging it forward.
For all their pressure, Scotland failed to score again before Barker returned, with the sting having gone right out of the game. After half an hour, Townsend was forced into a double change, with Fraser Brown going off with a rib injury and being replaced by Turner, and Lee Jones, who had damaged a knee in a separate incident, giving way to Mark Bennett. Chris Harris moved to the wing to accommodate Bennett at centre.
The team needed to reassert their control, and they did so with the same weapon that had proven so effective early on – the driving maul. Turner shepherded the move to within metres of the line, then Hidalgo-Clyne fed Jackson, who this time made no mistake. The scrum-half added the two points to his assist, and at 15-3 Scotland had a far healthier lead as the interval loomed.
Bright start to the second half
A higher tempo and a greater sense of urgency were in evidence right from the start of the second half, and the lead stretched within a couple of minutes when a penalty was sent to touch and Turner trundled over on the back of a lineout drive for a try to which Hidalgo-Clyne added another two points.
A bit of quick thinking by Phil Mack almost got Canada their first try when he tapped and ran a penalty award deep inside the Scots 22, but Jackson and Bradbury got underneath him to hold the ball up as he crossed the line. Lang then had to go off for a head-injury assessment, and Adam Hastings came on for his debut.
It should have been all plain sailing from that point, but the visitors then suffered double jeopardy when Jackson ended a Canada attack with what was deemed a deliberate knock-on of what would have been a scoring pass. The penalty try was awarded to take the Canadians into double figures, and Jackson was yellow-carded for his pains.
As the rain started to fall, things began to look a little sticky for Scotland, with the home side’s morale having been boosted by that score. Bradbury soon sorted things out, however, crossing for the fourth try thanks to some swift recycling after he had initially been stopped short of the line. Kinghorn converted.
Bennett was on the brink of grabbing the fifth try on the hour mark but lost the ball forward after being tackled by Ben LeSage, then Carmichael became the fourth new cap of the night as he replaced Ben Toolis. Substitute Murray McCallum was denied a score when play was called back for a neck roll in the ruck, but that fifth five-pointer was not delayed much longer, turning up after 68 minutes through another lineout maul in which Turner again supplied the coup de grace.
Four minutes later and the replacement hooker completed his hat-trick, as the pack once more rammed home their physical superiority in the maul. Kinghorn was on target this time to take the tourists past the 40-point mark, then in the second-last minute Carmichael burst through from the edge of the 22 to make it a scoring debut. The full-back calmly chipped over another conversion to complete a convincing victory.
The plan was always to make a large number of changes for the USA game, but there may be one or two enforced alterations too, with Brown in particular being a concern. “He’s on his way to hospital now,” Townsend added of the Glasgow hooker. “We’ll wait and see what the prognosis is. We have four hookers on the trip but let’s hope Fraser is available for at least one of the two remaining games.”
Canada: P Parfrey; J Hassler, B LeSage, N Blevins, D van der Merwe; S O’Leary, P Mack; N Barker, R Barkwill, J Ilnicki, P Ciulini, E Olmstead, L Rumball, M Heaton, L Campbell. Substitutes: E Howard, D Sears-Duru, C Keith, C Keys, D Dobravsky, A Ferguson, C Davis, T Sauder.
Scotland: B Kinghorn; L Jones, C Harris, J Lang, B McGuigan; R Jackson, S Hidalgo-Clyne; A Dell, F Brown, S Berghan, B Toolis, G Gilchrist, M Bradbury, J Ritchie, D Denton. Substitutes: G Turner, J Bhatti, M McCallum, L Carmichael, L Hamilton, A Price, A Hastings, M Bennett.
Canada: Try: Penalty try; Pen: O’Leary.
Scotland: Tries: McGuigan, Jackson, Turner 3, Bradbury, Carmichael; Cons: Hidalgo-Clyne 2, Kinghorn 3; Pen: Hidalgo-Clyne.
Scoring sequence (Canada first): 0-3, 0-8, 3-8, 3-13, 3-15 (h-t) 3-20, 3-22, 10-22, 10-27, 10-29, 10-34.
Yellow cards –
Referee: S Kubo (Japan).