Scotland romped to the bonus-point victory they required over Tonga at Stade de Nice to kick-start their World Cup campaign and keep alive their hopes of qualification for the knockout phase.
The pressure was on Gregor Townsend’s side after losing their first game to South Africa and then seeing Ireland defeat the Boks on Saturday, a scenario that left them with no margin for error and in need of big victories from their remaining fixtures.
The Scots kept their composure, however, and showed their attacking quality to get themselves a foothold in the top-heavy pool B by recording a 45-17 win over Tonga, with their seven tries all scored by different players.
Seven tries. Five points.
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) September 24, 2023
Scotland signalled their intent in the second minute when Blair Kinghorn chased down his own kick-through and outpaced the Tongan defence to get there but he knocked the ball on as he tried to slam it down over the line.
They only had to wait a further three minutes to get their first try of the tournament, though, as hooker George Turner pushed over following a maul. Finn Russell converted.
Tonga halted the early Scottish flow when William Havili sent his penalty between the posts in the 10th minute, and midway through the first half the Pacific islanders managed to get themselves in front when Solomone Kata ran on to a Salesi Piutau offload and dotted down on the right. Havili converted.
With the Scots trailing 10-7 more than a quarter of the way into a must-win game, they could have lost their composure, but they soon regained control of proceedings with three tries in the closing 14 minutes of the first half.
Duhan van der Merwe got them back in front in the 26th minute when he finished off a lovely move involving Sione Tuipulotu, Russell and Kinghorn by touching down on the left. Russell was wide with the conversion attempt.
A beautifully constructed try by the @Scotlandteam
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) September 24, 2023
Kyle Steyn – who scored a record four tries in the Scots’ last meeting with Tonga almost two years ago – then raced in on the right to score on the half hour following a lovely pass from Russell, who subsequently saw his kick come back off the post.
There was a flashpoint in the 33rd minute when Tonga back Afusipa Taumoepeau was sin-binned for a high challenge on Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie, who was forced off with a head injury and replaced by Matt Fagerson.
The Scots – anticipating that it might be upgraded to a red card on review – took advantage of their temporary numerical advantage when Rory Darge finished impressively in the last action of the half, with Russell on point with the conversion.
Shortly after Taumoepeau was surprisingly allowed to return to the field in the third minute of the second half, Tonga got back in the game when prop Ben Tameifuna bulldozed his way over on the left, and Havili added the extras.
With the deficit down to just seven points, Scotland reasserted themselves when substitute George Horne touched down in the 53rd minute after brilliant play by Van der Merwe to set him up. Russell converted.
Kinghorn and replacement Darcy Graham put the seal on a much-needed victory with late tries – both converted by Russell – either side of a yellow card for Tonga’s Vaea Fifita, which was subsequently changed to a red.