By Rory Baldwin
It was an odd sort of game
The evidence of the opening ten minutes looked like this match would be close but in the end it was far from it. During a first half when Scotland only had to make five tackles on a narrow artificial pitch and could afford to miss another four, a purple patch in attack saw tries from Tommy Seymour, Sean Maitland and Stuart Hogg
plus a penalty try awarded by referee Matthew Carley from a driven maul. Another from Hamish Watson just after half time – the result of a neat NFL-style handoff with Zander Fagerson playing quarterback – effectively ended the contest.
Winning the footrace: Tommy Seymour touches down for Scotland
If that level of dominance sounds unlikely for Scotland, it gets stranger. Players who often flatter to deceive at this level put in powerhouse performances – Ross Ford finally became a ball-carrying force on his 102nd cap, and Ryan Wilson was man of the match with 17 carries. For most of this game, the much vaunted Georgian pack was halted at source.
A couple of Jonny Gray clones would come in handy
Having now gone 750 minutes of test rugby without missing a tackle – he’s apparently only missed six in his test career – Jonny Gray
might have relaxed only having to make five tackles against Georgia with the massive amount of possession Scotland had. Instead though, he stepped it up with a big ball carrying performance, showing up well as part link player, part battering ram.
The clamp: Jonny Gray buried behind Vasil Lobzhanidze put in another tackle
Richie’s younger brother is the heartbeat of this pack now, and the blueprint too: honest, gutsy and incredibly hard working. It’s almost as if he embarrasses the rest of the pack into performing. Even with the depth available at second row across the home nations, surely he will be in the tour party to New Zealand next June if he carries on like this.
The new blood up front is very welcome
Vern Cotter hasn’t blooded quite as many new players this year as, say Joe Schmidt of Ireland, but the baptism of fire against two of the world’s top scrummaging packs (and Australia) for Zander Fagerson and Allan Dell will have Scotland fans sleeping that little bit easier at night.
New blood: Hamish Watson has made himself a viable option at openside
Three weeks as the starting props without any massive blots on the copybook means that come the Six Nations, assuming fitness for all, Dell and Fagerson can at least provide confident cover from the bench. It’s not unrealistic that Dell in particular could challenge for the starting shirt at loosehead come February, although Alasdair Dickinson and Rory Sutherland were ahead of him at Edinburgh. Perhaps not any more.
The case for Georgian inclusion in the Six Nations is perhaps unproven
Apart from a very quick early score, the sleepy patch from Scotland when they were up 38-11 gave Georgia their only real chance to showcase the set-piece driven rugby that they aspire to play in the Six Nations. They’re certainly effective at it when it clicks, and it’s not all scrums and mauls. In scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze they have someone with real talent and zip, and then there’s Mamuka Gorgodze who is their Sergio Parisse – but like Argentina they need to find a way to bring their offloading, World Cup A-game more often.
Jury still out: The inclusion for Georgia in the Six Nations is still up for debate
They’d argue that inclusion in the Six Nations would be the way to do this. Georgia brought a noisy contingent of fans all the way to Kilmarnock and we’d no doubt see big crowds in Tblisi. Given that Tommy Seymour’s try was fingertip close even for the TMO, Maitland’s came at the second time of asking – Alex Dunbar’s loop pass having been butchered the first – and perhaps a roll of the same dice on a different day would have provided a different, much closer result. Based on just this set of evidence though, it would only reduce the amount of tartan ribbons on the wooden spoon. No bad thing from where this author is standing…
The End results were what we hoped
If you’d offered up 2 wins from 3 ahead of the Australia game, Vern Cotter would have taken it. The autumn has been far from a disappointment for Scotland. Although another narrow loss against Australia will still rankle for a while, the try-scoring manner of the defeat should be more than enough to give hope for the Six Nations, which will sadly be Cotter’s final campaign in charge of Scotland. In recent years, Scotland’s summer and autumn fixtures have largely – whether by design or unwilling Southern Hemisphere unions – kept them playing teams who they have a good chance of beating, in an attempt to build a winning culture, instead of taking three-test whippings.
Sour note: Tevita Kuridrani scores as Australia break Scotland hearts again
However, wins against Japan (twice), a tired Argentina, and Georgia since June must be compared against Scotland’s next opponents, Ireland, who have beaten the Southern Hemisphere big three inside a calendar year for the first time and are building a frightening amount of depth in several areas. Wins are incredibly valuable, but having stepped up a level from Japan, Scotland need to take a big step again to prepare for the challenge of Joe Schmidt’s men.