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Scotland 15 Tonga 21: Hopeless Scots hit rock bottom

A humiliation, a disgrace.

Greig Laidlaw tries to beat a tackle by Tonga's Taniela Moa   Photograph: PA
Greig Laidlaw tries to beat a tackle by Tonga's Taniela Moa Photograph: PA

Scotland came up short in every department, every minute and every facet of this game. The only argument in the aftermath was whether this was the worst performance in Scottish rugby history.

We knew it was the worst result, but the numbers do not begin to hint at the wretchedness of the display. Tonga could have hammered Scotland by a far greater margin, and nearly did when Sione Piukala, their muscular centre, looked like sprinting all the way for a try in the last minute. He spared Scotland's blushes with a hilariously bad offload, but the respite was brief.

Scotland tried desperately to get back upfield for the converted try they needed to win the game. Someone threw a pass to Tom Heathcote, the young Bath fly-half controversially fast-tracked into the side to keep him out of England's clutches. Heathcote dropped the ball and the referee brought the game to an end.

It was a suitably ham-fisted conclusion. Scotland were let down by their handling often enough up to that point, but then again they had been let down by their tactics, their lack of devil in the tackle and their muddle-minded approach to turning pressure into points. They went for lineout penalties at a stage of the game when they should have been hammering the ball between the posts, and they failed to take advantage of the fact that Tonga had three players yellow-carded.

Effectively, they were up against 14 men for half an hour, but made a pig's backside of that advantage. In the last few minutes they won a couple of scrums on the Tongan line, packed down against seven forwards and still managed to turn the ball over.

It was not as if they were up against one of the great sides. You would have warmed to the Tongans on a bitterly cold Aberdeen afternoon, but the islanders brought more guts and enthusiasm than skill and strategy. In some areas, their disorganisation was almost comical, and they butchered more chances than they converted. The problem was that Scotland never got close to having those chances.

Robinson's side bungled and blundered from start to finish. Critically, they never owned the game for any length of time, never built pressure or wore their opponents down. With thunderous irony, they actually had a pretty good day at the lineout, the standard platform at this level, but highlighted their hopelessness by doing nothing with the stream of ball Al Kellock won for them there.

Worst of all was what went on at the breakdown, where they were feeble, and worse, out-fought and out-thought.

There were wonderful cameos from Tonga's back-row confreres, Hale T-Pole and Viliami Ma'afu. To add to the irony, Ma'afu was recently released by Glasgow, the word being that he just didn't cut the mustard. In Aberdeen, he looked useful enough, hammering hard at the Scottish defence and usually making good yards.

Scotland, by contrast, had no rhythm, no momentum, no sense of turning the screws on their opponents. Their kicking game was fractured, only occasionally challenging the Tongans. Had Tonga realised Scotland's deficiencies at the start it is almost frightening to consider what they could have done.

Kellock just about mustered a pass mark, but he was alone in that distinction. Dave Denton, a revelation in the Six Nations, had a dreadful game, his weaknesses magnified by Ma'afu's performance. The Scots also struggled to clear what ball they did win, with neither Henry Pyrgos nor Greig Laidlaw imposing shape on the game.

It was no great surprise that Tonga scored first. Fangatapu Apikitoa had already missed one penalty by the time he edged his side in front with a second effort after five minutes. Laidlaw levelled matters soon afterwards, but it was clear even then that Scotland were struggling to manufacture clean, quick ball. Tonga wanted to make a mess of the game, as they were perfectly entitled to do, and make a mess is exactly what they did.

By half-time, Scotland had another penalty on the board, and when Laidlaw clipped over his third just five minutes after the break there was a hope they might finally find their shape.

Instead, they found themselves behind on the scoreboard just a few minutes later, inattention near their own line letting lock Tukulua Lokotui rumble over for Tonga's first try.

It was time for cool heads, but we saw rabbits caught in the headlights. Scotland muscled back up the pitch and gave two more penalty chances to Laidlaw, but it would be pushing it to say they were controlling the game. Their best spell was the 10 minutes after half-time, but their total reward then was three points.

They held a 15-10 lead early in the final quarter but blew it again. Apikotoa had just narrowed the gap to two points with a penalty when Robinson's side made a mess of dealing with the restart. Moments later, the ball was in the hands of Fetu'u Vainikolo, and the powerful winger raced down the left side and dived over gleefully for the second try.

With 12 minutes left, Scotland still had time but lacked the presence of mind to do anything with it. It was no travesty when they slipped further behind to another Apikotoa penalty in the 73rd minute.

The game was up for Scotland. It could be up for Robinson too.

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