Scotland looked slick at times and like a team that hadn’t played for seven months at others, but they still cantered to an eight-try win against over-matched Georgia at an eerily-empty Murrayfield.
Finn Russell made his return for the final 20 minutes for his 50th cap and had some fun against the tiring Georgians, who had the life sucked out of them by Scotland’s impressive forward display.
The superbly-drilled lineout drive proved hugely effective against the big Georgia pack and provided two tries for captain Fraser Brown and one for his replacement Stuart McInally, while Darcy Graham bagged two scores.
Hamish Watson, a debut score for Duhan van der Merwe and Blair Kinghorn were the other try scorers, with wing Akaki Tabutsadze scoring Georgia’s only counter.
There were a few rusty edges in the Scots’ play, but the forwards did the hard work to build the lead and in the last half-hour they really started to click. Apart from their one score, Georgia hardly had any ball to pose any threat and were under constant pressure at scrum, lineout and the breakdown.
We’ve become accustomed to spectator-less stadia these last few months, but did we ever really expect this, a Murrayfield almost silent for Scotland?
There was even socially-distanced anthems with players lined up at arms’ length – none of the reassuring clinches from team-mates there, although both teams assembled for the usual kick off huddle before kick-off, the Georgians letting a sizeable roar go as they broke away.
But they immediately surrendered possession from kick-off and within two and a half minutes the Scots were over the line for the opening score.
Duhan van der Merwe got a handy first touch as the Scots went wide left but after a penalty award against Georgia it was the other wing Darcy Graham, who was quick-witted to take a tap, dummy and crash through tackles for the score.
Hastings converted off the post but the Scots’ rust was showing too, Blair Kinghorn missing a penalty to touch and two turnovers lost at the breakdown by captain Brown and Watson.
The full-back then almost had a complete disaster when he ignored van der Merwe outside him and went himself in the Georgia 22, but the visitors pinched it from him and countered into the space he’d vacated, Matt Fagerson having to retreat to his own 22 to clear up.
Then a botched lineout put Scotland on the back foot in their own 22 and it needed the breakdown skills of the diminutive Graham and Ali Price to stop the Georgians.
The second try took all of 24 minutes to come, but it was straightforward – a penalty against Giorgadze coming in from the side of a ruck, Kinghorn’s kick to the corner, and a lineout drive at almost sprint speed with both centres joining in for skipper Brown get the score that went unconverted.
And roughly the same route produced the third try just after the half-hour. This time the drive stalled five metres short, but Scotland stayed patient and quickly worked room for Watson unmarked on the left touchline to score.
Another lineout drive almost brought a fourth try just on the break, but Georgian hands got under the ball and the Scots had to be satisfied with a 17-0 half-time lead.
Georgia had hardly put any phases together in the first half, but they scored with their first attack of the second 40 after Hastings spilled a routine high ball just outside his own 22.
Captain Merab Sharikadze made good ground on the charge from ball off the scrum and scrum-half Lobzhanidze looped a pass to wing Tabutsadze to scamper in for the unconverted try, the TMO required to confirm a Scottish hand had caused the ball to drift forward.
Scotland responded immediately and ran that super-speed lineout drive a second time with the result Brown’s second try, although Hastings missed the conversion again.
It was centre James Lang who made way for the much-anticipated return of Russell after 55 minutes, and Brown also departed leaving Jamie Ritchie to be captain for the first time at just 24.
Russell went to 10 and immediately added an urgency to Scotland’s attack that nearly got Graham in for a second score, but it was the lineout drive again – at a more measured pace this time – that finished with Brown’s replacement McInally scoring on the hour, Hastings finally finding his range for the two extras.
And with 10 minutes left it was Russell’s inside ball that at last unleashed van der Merwe for his debut try, cantering in from 15 metres out.
Hastings converted as Georgia’s replacement scrum-half Gela Aprasidze was yellow carded for an intentional knock-on, and the floodgates opened.
Graham scored his second and Scotland’s seventh try after a sweet delivery from sub scrum-half George Horne, and a similar super pass from Russell opened the gap for Kinghorn to go in for the eighth.
Scotland: Blair Kinghorn; Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, James Lang, Duhan van der Merwe; Adam Hastings, Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, Fraser Brown (capt), Zander Fagerson; Ben Toolis, Scott Cummings; Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson.
Replacements: Stuart McInally for Brown 55, Oli Kebble for Sutherland 55, Simon Berghan for Z Fagerson 55, Robert Harley for Cummings 70, Nick Haining for Watson 65, Cornell du Preez for M Fagerson 38, George Horne for Price 65, Finn Russell for Hastings 55.
Georgia: Soso Matiashvili; Akaki Tabutsadze, Deme Tapladze, Merab Sharikadze (capt), Sandro Todua; Tedo Abzhandadze Vasil Lobzhanidze; Mikheil Nariashvili, Jaba Bregvadze, Lexo Kaulashvili; Nodar Cheishvili, Grigol Kerdikoshvili; Otar Giorgadze, Beka Gorgadze, Beka Saghinadze.
Replacements: Shalva Mamukashvili for Bregvadze 50, Guram Gogichashvili for Nariashvili 55, Giorgi Melikidze for Kaulashvili 40, Giorgi Javakhia for Cheishvili 70, Giorgi Tkhilaishvili for Giorgadze 55, Gela Aprasidze for Lobzhanidze 60, Giorgi Kveseladze for Sharikadze 58, Tamaz Mchedlidze for Todua 77.
Ref: Alex Ruiz (FFR)