Analysis: Patience pays off as Scotland stay alive

Scotland v Samoa – Rugby World Cup 2019_ Pool A
A bonus-point win over Samoa was pretty much all that could keep Scotland alive at this year’s Rugby World Cup – and they duly delivered it.

A bonus-point win over Samoa was pretty much all that could keep Scotland alive at this year’s Rugby World Cup – and they duly delivered it.

Gregor Townsend’s side had a long time to stew over their heavy loss to Ireland on the opening Saturday.

But they delivered an impressive response on Monday in Kobe to keep the battle for the qualification spots wide open in Pool A.

Sean Maitland and Greig Laidlaw went over in the first half and then in the second, a brace of penalty tries completed an impressive and important 34-0 win.

Townsend’s Scotland side are renowned for the pace of their play and their ability to attack with ball in hand from anywhere.

But in a sweltering Kobe, with humidity and heat making the ball uncommonly slippery, it was a return to the straightforward rather than the sublime that did the job here.

Any team can come unstuck chasing four tries and the bonus point, particularly when your World Cup life depends on it.

But after a faltering first quarter riddled with handling errors on both sides, the Scots showed real poise to get on top before the break.

And again at the start of the second half, a fired up Samoa frustrated Townsend’s side for large parts.

The third try did not arrive until the hour mark, and the fourth with only five minutes to spare.

But after having their spirit questioned in Yokohama ten days ago, there can be no doubting Scotland are still up for the fight in Pool A.

Ball in hand, Scotland could not seem to make the passes stick in the early exchanges.

It was not a day for flashy offloads, but when Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg finally started to put boot to ball, they got their rewards.

Russell will get the plaudits for his magnificent cross kick to set up Maitland, but it was Hogg’s howitzer of a right boot that more often than not laid the platform.

The full-back was well shackled last week by Ireland, and here never really broke free with ball in hand as we have so often seen him do, although he and Maitland often returned wayward Samoan kicks with interest.

But he kicked long for territory time after time, giving the Samoan back three nightmares.

His touch finders from hand are some of the biggest in the tournament and gave his pack the momentum they craved, and he even chipped in a drop goal from range in the first half – a recurring theme in this World Cup that has seen five already.

On a hot night when the ball often resembled a bar of soap, Scotland did most of their damage with their feet instead and Hogg was the main instigator.

Maitland’s dancing feet saw him beat eight defenders in all, and Russell was the key creator for both first-half scores.

But the man of the match on the day was Jonny Gray.

Scotland’s pack were overpowered by Ireland in their opener, and needed a response.  It was Gray who provided it.

The Glasgow Warrior led his side’s powerful defensive showing, making 13 tackles as Samoa were held pointless for the first time ever at a World Cup.

This is a Samoa team that had put at least 30 points on Scotland in each of their last two meetings, albeit in defeat.

But Gray and co were having none of it on Monday, stopping Samoa in their tracks time after time.

He also ran a lineout that functioned perfectly, 17 from 17 with three steals and untold pressure on the Samoan throws, and showed some lovely attacking touches with ball in hand.

Tip-on passes in traffic that change the point of attack are becoming routine for tight five operators but in these conditions they were no mean feat and Gray excelled there as well.

Close behind Gray for man of the match was undoubtedly Jamie Ritchie.

The flanker, whose involvement at this World Cup was jeopardised by a facial injury late in the summer, showed no ring rust in his first World Cup outing.

The loss of Hamish Watson plunged Scotland almost into mourning last week, but on this evidence they needn’t worry.

Ritchie was everywhere, as all good opensides should be.

He chipped in a turnover in each half, carried strongly with three defenders beaten, including one fine clean-up job under his own posts at the start of the second half, and added 11 tackles for good measure.

Townsend changed his entire back row for this game, and alongside Magnus Bradbury and Blade Thomson, Ritchie will take some shifting now.

There are still some work-ons for Townsend’s side.

The lineout went perfectly but the scrum was something of a lottery – and that will need tightening up.

Twice Scotland were pinged in the front row, although they also won their fair share, but it remains to be seen the severity of the injury to Allan Dell who went off inside the first 20 minutes.

On another night they could have been punished for leaving it that late to get the fourth try also, considering how much joy Maitland and Darcy Graham had it perhaps could have come sooner.

But the main fact is, Scotland needed five points and they got them. Now they will be red-hot favourites to do the same to Russia next Wednesday in Shizuoka.

That will inevitably be a much-changed side for Townsend, with Japan lying in wait four days later in Yokohama.

But do the business against Russia and Scotland should head into their meeting with the Brave Blossoms with the quarter-finals still in sight. That’s all they can ask for.