Scots To Give Tonga A Thrashing
After a heroic defeat to the All-Blacks, Scotland have a chance to put that hurt to bed with a test against Tonga.
A victory over Italy was the only bright spot of another dismal Scottish Six Nations campaign earlier this year, but under new coach Vern Cotter, Scotland have started to show signs of fulfilling their promise. They won three out of four on their summer tour, kicked off their autumn internationals with an encouraging 41-31 victory over Argentina and then restricted the All-Blacks to an eight point victory.
Tonga had a poor time in last year’s autumn internationals, losing all three, but have fared a little better in 2014. They drew with Samoa in the IRB Pacific Nations Cup, and have kicked off their northern hemisphere tour with two wins, the first in Tblisi against a confident Georgian side, and the latest last weekend, a healthy 40-12 victory over the United States in Gloucester.
Scotland only had one injury doubt going into Saturday’s game, but their crocked list has lengthened considerably after their bruising game against the All Blacks. Centre Mark Bennett came off after twelve minutes with a hamstring injury and is definitely out for the game against Tonga, whilst nine other players are in doubt, including Greig Laidlaw, Richie Gray, Ross Ford, Euan Murray and Blair Cowan.
Tonga’s pre-tour preparations were hit by the defection of Amanaki Lelei Mafi, who has chosen to represent Japan, and they are missing a number of other key players, including Halani Aulika, Ben Tameifuna, Sona Taumalolo, Ma’ama Vaipulu and Taoine Vea through injury or contract issues.
Head to Head
Until 2012, Tonga’s head to head record with Scotland was poor. Their first two meetings were almost twenty years apart, in 1974 and 1993 and Tonga lost both, failing to reach double figures in either game.
Two years later, they met again, this time in the Pool Stage of the 1995 World Cup and Scotland again prevailed, by 36 points.
The Sea Eagles finally passed double figures in their fourth meeting, losing 43-20 on their 2001 tour, but it was two years ago at Pittodrie when they made their mark on this fixture. Trailing 6-3 at half time, they put on a storming second half display, scoring two tries to register a shock 21-15 win, a result that stunned Scottish rugby and led to the resignation of coach Andy Robinson.
Tonga will be keen to replicate their performance of 2012, when they caught the home side cold with a hard-tackling, attacking style, but I can’t see Scotland falling for it this time. They were at a low ebb two years ago, but under Vern Cotter they are moving in the right direction and last weekend’s stirring performance against New Zealand was another step forward. They may be a little under-strength, but the Tongans are also weakened by injuries and withdrawals, and whilst they can give the home side a good workout, they won’t be strong enough to win again on Scottish soil. Back Scotland -14 at 10/11 in the Match Handicap market.