Scotland keep World Cup hopes alive with win over Tonga

rugby24 September 2023 17:50| © AFP

Scotland sealed a bonus-point 45-17 victory over Tonga in Nice on Sunday to keep their hopes of making the World Cup quarter-finals alive.

The Scots, who lost 18-3 to defending champions South Africa in their opening game, went into the match against the South Sea Islanders knowing that nothing short of five points was necessary to stay in contention in Pool B, the so-called "pool of death" of the tournament.

That was achieved by half-time in a perfect start marred, however, by skipper Jamie Ritchie being forced from the field for a head injury assessment after a tackle by Afusipa Taumoepeau that saw the Tongan winger lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

World number one side Ireland top the pool with 14 points after their 13-8 defeat of South Africa who have 10 points.

Scotland now have five points and will look to bag another five against Romania in Lille on 30 September before a potential winner-takes-all clash against the Irish in the two sides' final pool game on 7 October in Paris.

"To be honest, it was tough out there. The first half hour, I've never been hit like that before," said Scotland winger Duhan van der Merwe who scored the second of their seven tries.

"The body will be sore tomorrow. With boys like Finn (Russell), Sione (Tuipulotu) and Blair (Kinghorn) giving me opportunities, it's amazing."

Tonga coach Toutai Kefu said he "can't question the effort of the boys, they tried their hardest".

"Scotland are a good side - they controlled possession and territory and that was probably the difference."

Kinghorn almost gave Scotland the best possible start, outstripping the defence in a foot race after kicking into space, but his attempt to ground the ball over the line fell short.

Scotland took the lead moments later, however, hooker George Turner touching down after a rolling maul that travelled a full 20 metres.

Finn Russell converted, but William Havili pulled back a penalty for Tonga, who lost their tournament opener to Ireland 59-16.

Former Tonga and New Zealand rugby league international Solomone Kata had proved a handful in the opening quarter, twice bumping off opposing number Van der Merwe.

His just desserts came after Scotland were caught napping at a ruck, expecting referee Karl Dickson to blow up to penalise Ritchie for offside.

Instead, Tonga played the whistle and ex-All Black Charles Piutau drew two defenders and offloaded to Kata, the winger striding over for a try Havili converted.


Van der Merwe responded in like, finishing off a slick move that saw Kata drawn infield in a bid to close down Kinghorn, who released the South African-born winger for a simple run-in to the corner.

Russell missed the touchline conversion, but made up for that with a perfect flat pass to Kyle Steyn who sprinted in for Scotland's third try on 30 minutes.

Tonga hopes of staying competitive diminished when Taumoepeau was sent to the sin bin four minutes later for leading his shoulder into Ritchie's head in a midfield tackle.

Rory Darge gave Scotland the perfect boost going into half-time, crashing over from a scrum to guarantee an attacking bonus point. Russell converted to make it 24-10 at the break.

Tonga, however, came roaring out of the blocks in the second period.

Bulky prop Ben Tameifuna proved unstoppable as he railroaded Russell and rampaged over for a memorable try that will have had members of the front-row union around the world purring in appreciation at 150kg (23st 6lb) in full propulsion.

Scotland responded immediately to ease the pressure with their fifth try, Van Der Merwe this time bumping Kata and playing in George Horne.

Russell nailed the touchline conversion and started to boss the match, another delightful pass setting up Kinghorn for a try.

Vaea Fifita, one of four former All Blacks in the Tonga side, was yellow-carded late on, upgraded in the bunker to red, after recklessly flying into a ruck as the Scots enjoyed a final hurrah from Darcy Graham, who sliced through a weary defence from halfway.