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Rested Scotland run away from Tonga, stay in contention at the Rugby World Cup

Team Scotland celebrates Team Scotland - The Canadian Press

NICE, France (AP) — Scotland reminded it is still in contention for a quarterfinal place at the Rugby World Cup with a bonus-point 45-17 win over Tonga on Sunday to advance its hopes in a pool shaded by the seismic Ireland-South Africa showdown, and presumptions that those two will be the ones going through.

Not so fast, say the Scots.

Scotland ticked off the first of three big tasks on its to-do list if it is to make a late surge into the knockouts with its seven tries against the Tongans in Nice.

The Scots need another bonus-point win over Romania next — a likely result against the minnow — to set up a do-or-die against Six Nations rival Ireland in the last round of Pool B games.

“It’s a six-day turnaround to Romania now and we know we’ve got to improve on this performance to get a bonus-point win," Scotland coach Gregor Townsend said. "Then, we’ve got a shootout against Ireland if that’s the case.”

Scotland hadn't been seen since its opening-weekend loss to South Africa, but seemed to have put its two weeks off to good use as its backs came out running against Tonga, with playmaker Finn Russell pulling the strings in a masterly display at No. 10. Russell shot bullet passes to his outside backs to regularly break open Tonga's defense.

“It’s great to be back out there. It’s a long time (off) in the middle of a competition," Russell said. “We prepared well and put out a decent enough performance. We’re going to have to get better if want to stay in this competition after the group stages but we got what we needed tonight.”

Tonga was ultimately overrun for a second straight loss, but only after the Tongans led 10-7 in the first half and closed it to 24-17 early in the second with a bulldozing charge by 151-kilogram captain Ben Tameifuna, the heaviest man at the World Cup.

Scotland wing Duhan van der Merwe bounced back from a couple of juddering hits on him by Tonga to throw his own considerable weight around.

He scored the second of Scotland's four first-half tries untouched on the left wing, then powered past and through three Tonga defenders to set up replacement George Horne in the corner for the try that ended Tonga's resistance and put the Scots two converted tries clear at 31-17 with 25 minutes to go.

Fullback Blair Kinghorn added a sixth try, set up by Russell, who had a crucial hand in four of the tries and was at the heart of everything good about Scotland's sharp-looking backline. He appeared to be in the sort of form Scotland will need if it is going to challenge Ireland.

Replacement Darcy Graham zoomed away for the seventh try from 55 meters out in the last play of the game.

Tonga was down to 14 men at that point after a yellow card for No. 8 Vaea Fifita for charging into Russell's head at a late breakdown, a hit that was put on review and upgraded to red after the final whistle.

It was the fifth red card of this Rugby World Cup, a game shy of the halfway stage. The most red cards at a World Cup came in Japan four years ago, when there were eight, putting this one on record pace.

It was also Tonga's fourth red in Rugby World Cup games, tying Canada for the most.

Wing Afusipa Taumoepeau was issued a yellow in the first half for a high hit on Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie, but survived it being upgraded because of Ritchie's move to duck into the tackle. Ritchie went off for a head injury check and didn't return.

Hooker George Turner was at the back of a Scotland maul that traveled nearly 20 meters for the first try in the fifth.

Tonga's first comeback came through right wing Solomone Kata's try down the short side, after fullback Charles Piutau drew two defenders and slipped a pass out of the tackle to send Kata clear.

Van der Merwe, fellow wing Kyle Steyn and flanker Rory Darge sealed the Scottish bonus point by halftime, meaning sealing the victory would be job done.

Tameifuna's rumble three minutes into the second half, running over Russell and taking three defenders over the tryline with him, turned out to be the last blow Tonga landed. Scotland had all the territory and most of the possession after halftime and the last 21 points of the game.

Tonga has defending champion South Africa next, with the Springboks also not guaranteed passage out of the pool.

"We’ll turn up, bring our best and fire some shots next week,” Tonga coach Toutai Kefu said.


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