Fiji 25-37 Scotland
By Rory Baldwin
FOR A Scotland team brimming with confidence after defeating Australia in Newcastle, the second test in Fiji represented a good chance for them to build on that and cement an unbeaten tour record. It also represented a potentially damaging pothole after Scotland’s last visit in 1998 had seen the hosts blast their way to a 51-26 win.
Contrasted with the cold and damp conditions at home, in Churchill Park, Laukota, it was dry, hot and sunny. In fact ideal conditions for rugby, and a sea change from the deluge of Newcastle.
Scotland came intent on controlling the pace and territory of the game with set-piece play, and trying to avoid helter-skelter sevens style rugby; at least that was the theory, yet Fiji opened the scoring and after a couple of penalties and it looked like the good ship Scotland was taking on water.
They didn’t exactly aid their cause by playing headless rugby in the opening quarter, with even Richie Gray throwing needless offloads that ended up in the hands of the hosts.
Scotland looked for too much space around corners when directness was called for, but with Fiji, predictably, hitting hard and happy to contest at the breakdown it was easy to understand their desire to avoid contact.
Laidlaw’s try settled Scotland’s nerves. The score itself was typical of him, scrabbling over from short range at a ruck and Edinburgh team mate and Fiji captain Netani Talei would have been a bit annoyed he didn’t see it coming.
That score served to re-adjust back to what we had expected: Laidlaw ran the game while the excellent Rennie and Gray got Scotland moving forward, and Fijian indiscipline gave Scotland points, including a penalty try.
Scrum-half Nikola Matawulu was the pick of the Fijians and at the heart of every good move and it was Matawalu who set Talebula free for a long-range try that the Scotland defence were powerless to stop. That set Scottish nerves jangling as it brought the score to 25-27. Luckily for Scotland, he was inexplicably substituted just afterwards and Visser was able to increase the lead again with a well-taken try.
Willing to run from anywhere until the end, perhaps over-enthusiasm resulted in scruffy passes when patience from Fiji could easily have paid dividends against a Scotland team tiring in the 30-degree heat.
As it was Scotland held out with strong defence from De Luca and Scott combining well in midfield to create turnover chances.
Scotland suffered from a lack of ball in the second half but refreshingly they were clinical when they did get chances, scoring three tries (two for Visser on a confidence-building debut) and Laidlaw finding goal-kicking conditions easy.
After the match both squads created a giant circular huddle to give thanks – the result may not have been to the liking of the Fijian crowd, but it seems the people and the team were delighted at Scotland playing a full Test in their country.
With the midweek match planned for Australia cancelled there are many on tour who have only had cameos, namely Duncan Weir, Tom Ryder, Richie Vernon and Tom Brown and a few yet to feature at all, in Rob Harley and Alex Grove.
Scotland will want to keep their unbeaten record intact – their second under Robinson – but they will play a Samoan unit with more structure than Fiji, and no less passion. It will be a big undertaking for Robinson to make it 3-0 and Robinson will have to weigh that temptation against giving more game-time to the likes of Weir, whose strong kicking game may actually suit the Samoa test.
With Australia clearly focused on a three-Test series against Wales, Samoa looked at the start of the tour like it could potentially be the sternest test of Scotland, and it still does.
Follow Scottish Rugby blog on twitter @scotrugbyblog