Gregor Townsend said the real Scotland finally showed up in the win over Samoa to reignite their bid for the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.
The Scots were a shadow of the team that has beaten some of the game’s biggest names over the last two years as they crashed embarrassingly to Ireland in their Pool A opener last weekend.
That defeat, combined with Japan’s shock win over Joe Schmidt’s men, left Scotland staring at a humiliating early exit.
But Townsend’s team roared back into contention for the last eight with a gutsy display as they beat Samoa 34-0 at Kobe’s Misaki Stadium.
Sean Maitland and Grieg Laidlaw both grabbed first-half touchdowns before referee Pascal Gauzere issued two penalty tries after the break to seal a much-needed bonus point.
“That was a true reflection of who we are and what we are capable of and what playing for Scotland means to the players,” said head coach Townsend.
“That was a tough challenge to face, knowing that if we underperformed we were out of the World Cup. To see the effort and togetherness was excellent.
“Last week we missed the beginning of the game and I take responsibility for not preparing the team well enough to start well against Ireland.
“But that didn’t make us a bad team. Tonight was great to see them get rewards for their effort.”
Japan lit up the 2015 World Cup with their famous win over South Africa but Saturday’s giant-killing repeat was bad news for Scotland, leaving them potentially needing three bonus-point wins to qualify.
But they had to wait until the 74th minute to chalk off the first of those extras as Ed Fidow resorted to illegal means to prevent Maitland scoring his second try.
Gauzere was not fooled by his knee-slide which dislodged the ball from the Saracens wing’s grasp as he slid in at the corner and flashed a second yellow card at the Samoan wideman, who had already been sin-binned having conceded an earlier penalty try for stopping a Fraser Brown-led driven maul.
“The goal was to win the game and we believed with the pressure we built that opportunities would come in the second half,” said Townsend.
“You have to play the full 80 to get the bonus point. We are glad we got it.
“To win and play better was the target and anything extra would be an exceptional performance and it was, especially in the first half.”
Townsend’s team must now repeat the trick against Russia on October 9 – but if they do that they can seal a place in the last eight by defeating Japan while denying the tournament hosts a bonus point in their final Pool A game.
“We are still in the tournament and the bonus point gives us an opportunity to go to our next game and get maximum points again,” said Townsend.
“If we do it will be a game against Japan to go into the quarter-finals.
“Japan and Ireland are still favourites to get out the pool. We have to win our next two games and get at least one bonus, potentially two.”
North Harbour vs Wellington
October 4, 2019, 8:30am
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Townsend reacted to the abject display against the Irish in Yokohama by putting out a new-look back row and the move paid off with Jamie Ritchie, Magnus Bradbury and Blade Thomson providing the drive and energy they had lacked last time out.