It’s hard to think, in recent memory, of a more dominant 40 minutes for Scotland than the first half on Saturday. They neutered the powerful Georgian pack by starving them of both possession and territory. While the game was more even in the second period (as much due to a drop off in intensity and precision from the home side as a fight back from the visitors) it always felt like Scotland were comfortable everywhere bar the scrum. Here’s On Top Of The Moon’s guide to who was more artful than artificial at Rugby Park on Saturday.
Stuart Hogg – 8
As a Georgian player, at what point do you stop and think – “Maybe we shouldn’t just keep giving the ball to these guys”? Hogg (147m with ball in hand) and Seymour (117m) were the biggest beneficiaries of a first half kicking contest the Lelos lost hands down.
Sean Maitland – 6
Took his try well after a poor miss pass a couple of phases earlier looked to have cost him the score. Didn’t see as much ball as Seymour with the Scotland attack showing a strong bias to the left hand side. Maybe there’s a slope on the Rugby Park pitch…
Mark Bennett – 6
His brilliant recovery of Scotland’s kick off started the attack for Maitland’s try. He would have scored but for an unsubtle bit of Georgian cheating. His second half break up the wing should have lead to another (incidentally on that passage he went: stripped ball; released Hughes with pass; cleared out ruck; escaped up wing). The rest of the game did pass him by slightly though.
Alex Dunbar – 6
Was asked to truck it up into the heart of the midfield to get Scotland on the front foot. It was a task he took to with relish but not one that allowed him to show much sophistication in his play. Owes Moray Low one for the late knock on which lead to the Exeter man’s yellow card.
Tommy Seymour – 6
Cut back in off his wing 3 times, seemingly concerned about the lack of room on the touchline. Was he calling for the ball or were his teammates taking the wrong option? Owed the side a try after bombing his tackle on the Georgians first score (still loses a point from his rating though!)
Finn Russell – 7
Varied his game well and, while he made a few wrong decisions, was still strongly in credit by the end of the game. Could have done with slotting that late conversion though if he wanted to press his case as Scotland’s front line kicker.
Greig Laidlaw – 8
93 passes in 73 minutes will have taken its toll on those rotator cuffs and he did slow down a touch as the game wore on. Up until then though he had been good value with his distribution, decision-making and of course goal-kicking. He still should have made way much earlier for Price but that’s the coach’s issue not the player’s.
Allan Dell – 6
Started all 3 Autumn Tests when he’s still not managed more than 3 starts in a season for Edinburgh. Looked the part everywhere bar the biggest scrums. Ripped the ball from a Georgian maul and then followed up 30 seconds later by stripping another Lelo during a tackle.
Ross Ford – 7
A storming first half from Fordy sees him hit the giddy heights of an OTOTM 7 for the first time. Seemed to run out of steam very quickly in the 2nd half, missing 2 lineouts in a row and being withdrawn before a scrum on the line when it would seem to have made more sense to retain his bulk for an extra couple of minutes.
Zander Fagerson – 6
He’s still a good bit off WP Nel’s standard – but there’s an equally large gap from Ragnar to the next Scottish tighthead candidate. He has the power to survive most straight pushing contests but he needs to learn all the tricks opposition looseheads are going to come at him with if he’s to be truly successful at this level.
Jonny Gray – 7
This must almost have felt like a holiday camp for Jonny. With the Georgians struggling to get hold of the ball he only had to make 5 tackles. And with solid support across the entire pack the carrying duties were reasonably well spread. OTOTM’s player of the Autumn Test series.
Richie Gray – 8
Did pretty much everything that would have been asked of him and did it well: strong on the restarts; dominated the lineout; carried hard; made his tackles; hit rucks. Both Grays play even better when they’re paired together but it’s definitely Richie who gets the bigger lift.
Rob Harley – 6
Tasked with protecting the midfield ball carriers rather than around the fringes he was a solid presence – and even threw in 4 good carries to mix it up a little. Vern Cotter will not be short of options in the back row but he knows where to look if he needs a ginger wh’s a nuisance at the breakdown.
Hamish Watson – 8
Most definitely OTOTM’s breakthrough player of the series, the Human Pinball was at it again on Saturday, deflecting would be tacklers as he bumped over for his first test try. Be thankful that at least half of the moustache and pseudo-mullet combo won’t be sighted for another year though.
Ryan Wilson – 8
Let’s be honest, no Scotland fan likes seeing Ryan pick up Man of the Match awards. It’s the obligatory interview that’s the trouble – as the least Scottish sounding man in the UK ‘gor-blimey guv’nors’ his way through a chat with the Beeb, some kind of snide comment from the John Inverdales of the world is almost guaranteed. Ryan’s essential Scottishness has never been in question though and he put in a powerful all round performance in Kilmarnock.
Fraser Brown – got through a lot of work on the defensive side of things.
Alex Allan – his side of the scrum was more solid – but was still going backwards.
Moray Low – a tough 8 days for Moray. He was involved in 8 scrums across 2 games – leading to 5 penalties, a free kick and a yellow card.
Grant Gilchrist – will have spent longer on the warm down than he did playing.
John Barclay – came on just in time to face the Georgians at their most physical and abrasive but battled hard.
Ali Price – decided what to do as soon as the referee called “advantage” and executed it perfectly to create the last score.
Peter Horne – very little to do.
Rory Hughes – missed all the fun the wingers had in the first half but threw himself into things with a good tackle on Gorgodze plus a smart supporting run and take and pass for Hogg’s second try.
The ‘Official’ On Top Of The Moon Scot of the match was…Ryan Wilson – because sometimes even Andy Nicol gets it right! Ryan has epitomised the Warrior spirit for Glasgow this season, playing through the pain barrier and leaving everything on the pitch, and he was able to take that attitude onto the Test stage. He had 17 carries, almost every one of which put Scotland on the front foot. He added 6 tackles and was a primary option at the lineout with 4 takes and a steal. Almost certainly his strongest showing in a dark blue jersey yet and the level he needs to aspire to game in game out if he wants to nail down that starting berth.
Picture courtesy of Adrian Henry for Rugby People.