For 40 minutes at least, Elland Road was the fortress history intended it to be for men in white shirts. The United States were all over the rabble of Scots, who, in Stuart Lancaster’s Leeds back yard, appeared to be doing all they could to shift the World Cup focus from English recriminations.
Refusing to accept their billing as fodder for Scotland and aided by some woeful Scottish execution, the USA opened up a 13-6 lead at the break.
The advantage might easily have stood at two tries to nil had the Scottish defence not conceded a penalty to end 15 phases of marauding American rugby under their posts as the first half came to a close. As it was, the only try of the half was crafted by America, scored by Titi Lamositele, an accidental rugby player who happened across the game only five years ago while watching his high-school team.
Scotland, returning just four days after the victory over Japan, gathered themselves at the break and in two minutes of the re-start finally crossed the line when Stuart Hogg fed Tim Visser inside the 22. There was some irony in the combination as the pair bungled what might have been the try of the match from a similar position in the first half, when Hogg passed to Visser’s knees with the tryline begging.
America were ahead inside two minutes courtesy of an AJ MacGinty penalty. Hogg levelled from the half-way line and when Finn Russell slotted from under the posts, the rout looked on.
Instead, it was the Scots who suffered a loss in power output, partly due to the demise of Grant Gilchrist midway through the half. A magnificent tackle by Samu Manoa to halt Ryan Grant three minutes later resulted in a penalty to the USA. A kick for touch and a lineout later, the bulldozer that is Lamositele crashed over the Scottish line. It was the first time the Americans had finessed a set-piece move, and the hapless Scots had no answer.
A missed penalty by Russell and another butchered opportunity when Peter Horne and Mark Bennett failed to get Sean Maitland away in a gift of a three-on-one summed up a messy opening half for Scotland.
Visser’s incisive break after the restart was just the response the coach Vern Cotter demanded. Maitland followed Visser over the line in the 47th minute and replacements WP Nel and Matt Scott helped themselves as the Americans tired.
A second win, coupled with another bonus point, takes the Scots into the heavy- duty engagement with South Africa in Newcastle on Saturday knowing defeat would not be catastrophic. And as they showed in the second half, there ought to be few concerns when they return to St James’ Park a week later for the final group game against Samoa.
A relieved Cotter said: “We are very happy to get the win and the bonus point. We had a physical team in front of us and were not particularly accurate in first 40, but scoring early in second half got us back on track.”
Cotter’s American counterpart Mike Tolkin said: “Credit to Scotland. We knew it was important to establish territory. The opposite happened and we lost momentum.”