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Analysis: Scotland’s young guns fire up their quarter-final bid

Analysis: Scotland’s young guns fire up their quarter-final bid

Darcy Graham in action for Scotland against England in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations (Inpho)

  • Graham made 151m and beat eight defenders in only 47 minutes of action
  • Horne hat-trick and Hastings double see them cruise past Russia
  • Townsend rest and rotates with Sunday and crunch Japan clash in mind

You have to go all the way back to 1964 for the last time Scotland won back-to-back Tests without conceding a single point.

But it is fresh blood rather than ancient history that has inspired Gregor Townsend’s side to consecutive victories to keep them in contention in Pool A.

22-year-old Darcy Graham was the star of the show, while George Horne, 24, grabbed a hat-trick and Adam Hastings, 22, a double in a 61-0 win over Samoa.

Attentions now turn to Yokohama and their decider against Japan, and Townsend will make a number of changes for that clash you can be sure.

But the fresher faces held up their end of the bargain here in Shizuoka.

DARCY DOES IT AGAIN

Against a tiring Russian side, who kicked aimlessly throughout, wing Graham just tore them to shreds.

The only player retained from the starting XV that downed Samoa last week, the Edinburgh tyro is clearly going to be heavily involved again on Sunday.

But he was holding nothing back against Russia, returning kicks with interest, reclaiming restarts and laying on tries for his teammates.

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At times he was almost untackleable, Graham ending up with 151 metres made with ball in hand – the third highest single game tally of any player at this World Cup so far.

He beat eight defenders in 12 carries, for two clean breaks, the highlight of which came early in the second half when he shimmied his way through the Russian backfield before putting in Horne.

Those stats are all the more impressive considering he was withdrawn inside 50 minutes, Townsend with clearly one eye on Yokohama.

There were some areas for improvement too however, the winger made three handling errors – more than anyone else on the field – but it matters little when your jet heels are burning defenders for fun like this.

HALF-BACK HEROES

The headlines will go to their try-scoring heroics, but it was the game management of Hastings and Horne that was equally impressive.

Russia came into the game as the team that has kicked the ball the most at this World Cup.

But Scotland gave them a taste of their own medicine on Wednesday afternoon, as the half-backs clever kicking game produced time after time.

A fast start was always going to be important, and Hastings’s quickfire double, the second after hacking through his own clever chip ahead was particularly eye-catching.

This was Hastings’ first start ever at a World Cup but he looked to the manor born, drilling eight of nine conversions to make it a personal haul of 26 points.

He was only denied a hat-trick by a forward pass at the death, but Horne was not so unfortunate.

The deadly scrum-half showcased his full arsenal of skills here.

An early intercept was all about his quick thinking, his second was a classic No.9 support line and his third came when he had switched onto the wing in the second half.

As a sevens expert, Horne knows what to do in open spaces, and he might still have a role to play out here in Japan.

TAYLOR TURNS IT ON

Behind the three young tyros, it was also gratifying to see Duncan Taylor turn in the best performance of his injury return yet.

The centre played the full 80 minutes here and while Chris Harris appears to have leapfrogged him for the No.13 jersey on Sunday, looked every inch the class act we know he once was.

Two seasons of injury hell have slowed his climb but here he was up to his old tricks.

His handling was slick, flinging passes long and short and offloading right up to the final whistle as Scotland turned the screw in search of a better points difference.

But his kicking game, much like the half-backs inside him, was prudent and probing in equal measure. He was also Scotland’s top tackler with eight.

There might still be a bench spot up for grabs for Taylor, who clearly emptied the tank today, and on this evidence Townsend will be hard-pushed to overlook him.

BENCH BALANCE

There was a clear plan in place for Townsend and his side.

They wanted to get on top early and then be able to rotate and recover for Japan on Sunday.

Hastings and Horne got them going, and Fraser Brown – a hooker starting on the openside – was withdrawn after only half an hour.

This was clearly pre-planned as he hadn’t injured anything and had actually showed some very nice touches in the wider channels.

But they want Brown to back-up Stuart McInally on the weekend at hooker, and were hoping to get a few more minutes into Magnus Bradbury’s legs.

The plan worked perfectly, Graham helping to secure the bonus point before he too made way as Horne moved to the wing.

Key lieutenants like Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw and Jonny Gray got the night off, while McInally came on late on and even got a try to round things off.

Captain for the day John Barclay said: “We have been together so long, the boys wanted to put in a shift.

“Some boys put up their hands, some boys hadn’t played, everyone had motivation to pay well.

“If we had one eye on Japan we were in trouble, we couldn’t take our eyes off this game. For us, we were very focused on the game.”

DEFENCE DOES DAMAGE

For the opening almost five minutes of this clash, the ball never once left the field.

Russia and then Scotland came charging out the blocks.

But this was Russia’s fourth game inside three weeks whereas it was only Scotland’s third, and the fresher legs told.

The Bears could not cope with the pace of play as holes appeared in the back field and Scotland’s smothering defence never let up.

After holding Samoa pointless last time out, they did it again here.

The Scots have now played 192 minutes without conceding a single point, which is a World Cup record.

If they can keep up that intensity on Sunday, Japan’s much vaunted attack will have a job on their hands to break them down.