Scotland got an almighty scare and were given a physical lesson by Samoa in the opening Autumn Test, barely holding on for a win in the highest-scoring international ever played at BT Murrayfield.
The Scots seemed comfortable just after half-time 22 points ahead through Stuart McInally’s two tries even if they were flattered by that margin, but in the second half they were under the cosh in terms of territory and possession against a motivated, skilful and power-packed Samoan side.
Twice Samoa got within six points late in the game, their fifth try from Ofisa Treviranus making for a really nervy final three or four minutes in a game that should never have been that close.
The Scots coughed up far too much ball, and seemed to be physically second best for much of the match with Gregor Townsend’s gameplan centred on speed falling apart because of their poor execution.
Finn Russell had one of his poorest days in a Scotland shirt and far too many balls went down and tackles were missed in the midfield.
Lack of a punishing ball carrier was a problem for much of the day, as Samoa grew in belief as the match progressed and will feel they were just a couple of unlucky bounces away from a real upset.
The first came after just 94 seconds, giving the Scots an immediate lead but maybe lulling them intol a false sense of security for what was to come.
New cap Darryl Marfo made an instant impact securing a turnover at the first breakdown, and from there Scotland struck with opportunistic ease.
Russell tried a little grubber in behind the Samoan defence, Tommy Seymour hacked it on into the 22 and the ball took a big dark blue bounce over the head of the retreating Ah See Tuala into the hands of Stuart Hogg, who had maybe the easiest of his 17 tries for his country.
But the score served to put a listless Scotland too much at ease and Samoa were able to pick off turnovers from spilled ball and over ambitious moves, as well as exploit some slack tackling.
Tim Nanai-Williams and Russell swapped penalties, but the Scots stand-off’s second on 25 minutes still didn’t settle his team down.
Instead penalties gave Samoa field position and a quick tap inside the 22 caught the Scottish defence fractured, and lock Josh Tyrell plunged over under the posts, Nanai-Williams converting.
The Scots continued to waste ball until on 35 minutes Russell made a little break, the Scots forced a quick throw and Hogg’s missed pass saw Huw Jones step out of a tackle and dive into the corner for a try that went unconverted.
That settled the Scots and they forced a third try through setpiece, winning two scrum penalties and then driving a lineout for Stuart McInally to get the score, Russell adding the extras.
The same method worked after half-time, Samoa forced to surrender a penalty in their 22, the Scots kicking to the corner and the hooker barrelling over at the end of a lineout drive.
But the general slackness of Scotland’s performance returned when the kick-off was fumbled, Samoa worked the ball into the 22 and Tyrell wriggled over from close range for his second try, Nanai-Williams converting.
And Samoa continued to dominate territory as the Scots continued to cough it up, even when a maul was stalled Jack Lam made good ground off the back to the line, and Nanai Williams muscled over from close range, converting himself to cut the lead to just eight points.
Scotland were in need of a lift and Peter Horne, on for Russell, tried a little chip pass which Paul Perez fumbled into the hands of Lee Jones, who slung a pass inside for Alex Dunbar to crash over.
But the Scots botched the kick-off again, Samoa punched close with replacement hooker Matu’u off-loading and Keiran Fonotia bashed over from close range.
Suddenly Samoa were actually in range of a converted try, and there was an element of desperation about the Scots until with five minutes remaining replacement Cornell du Preez’s neat inside pass opened up a yawning gap for Horne to go through on a 25 metre run for what looked like a clinching try, which he converted himself.
Still Samoa wouldn’t lie down, however, and Treviranus took advantage of more soft Scottish defence to sprint in under the posts from 20 metres out, Nanai Williams converting again.
Another penalty against Scotland gave Samoa one last chance, but the Scots turned over a maul and gratefully booted into touch to safeguard the win.
Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour, H Jones, A Dunbar, L Jones; F Russell, A Price; D Marfo, S McInally, WP Nel; B Toolis, J Gray; J Barclay (capt), H Watson, R Wilson. Replacements: G Turner for McInally 59, J Bhatti for Marfo 59, Z Fagerson for Nel 33, T Swinson for Toolis 72, C du Preez for Barclay 59, H Pyrgos for Price 66, P Horne for Russell 66, C Harris for Seymour 59.
Samoa: A Tuala; P Perez, K Fonotia, R Lee-Lo, D Lemi; T Nanai-Williams, P Cowley; J Lay, M Leiataua, D Brighouse; J Tyrell, C Vui; P Fa’asalele for Brighouse 52, TJ Ioane, J Lam. Replacements: M Matu’u for Leiataua 57, H Sasagi for Lay 59, F Lemalu for Tyrell 72, O Treviranus for Ioane 62, M Matavao for Cowley 50, AJ Alatimu for Tuala 74, A Leiua for Lee-Lo 71.
Ref: N Berry (Australia RU)