Scotland left Houston became the first Tier One nation to lose to the USA.
They conceded two tries to Worcester hooker Joe Taufete’e and a gift score to flanker Hanco Germishuys to throw away a dominant first half with an error-ridden second. The game ended 30-29.
They did give themselves a chance to win the game three minutes after the 80 minutes were up when Adam Hastings found the killer pass to put Dougie Fife, the replacement wing, in for their fourth try, but the touchline conversion proved to be too tricky for Blair Kinghorn.
All that after the perfect start as new captain Stuart Hogg was given a tiny sliver of space on the outside of the American defence.
He needed no second invitation, slicing through and proving a perfect pass to Kinghorn on the wing for the opening try.
With the young wing converting, it was just the settler they were looking for.
Any idea that it was going to be an easy ride for the Scots was, however, quickly dismissed as the USA started to get their big forwards into the game, pummelling the Scots defence and forcing a string of penalties.
In the end, when they got an easy shot from in front of the posts AJ McGinty, the fly half took the points.
Scotland – who fielded two sets of brothers for the first time in Zander and Matt Fagerson and George and Peter Horne – could have restored their seven-point advantage from the kick-off but Kinghorn was narrowly wide with a shot from the 10 metre line.
It only delayed the Scotland score, however, as they set up camp in the home 22 until Peter Horne wriggled out of a tackle and found his brother George there to make it almost to the line.
At first it looked as though he had managed to touch the ball against a post for try but after lengthy review, the officials did not have a camera angle that showed one way or the other.
Instead referee Wayne Barnes ruled the tackle to stop him had been high and awarded a penalty try with Manu Samoa, the USA lock, being sent to the sin bin.
A superb solo break from McGinty, who plays for Sale Sharks in the English Premiership reminded the Scots that they still had work to do, though they did hit back with another try from a lineout maul, George Turner, the hooker, providing the touch down, just as he had done three times the week before.
The Americans were not finished and when Scotland spilled the ball at the kick off they simply hammered at the line until eventually Taufete’e, the hooker, grabbed their first try, though Kinghorn opened a bit more daylight between the sides with a penalty on the stroke of half time.
They needed it, as the USA won a lineout yards from the Scotland line, and again the visitors had no answer to the power of Taufete’e on the charge from the back of the maul, reaching out to ground the ball with two Scots clinging on.
McGinty converted and added a penalty and suddenly it was a one-point game.
Scotland rang the changes to freshen up the side and find a way into the match but it only got worse for them as an exchange of kicks ended with Matt Fagerson dropping the ball and McGinty swooping on it to put flanker Germishuys over for the go-ahead try.
Scotland came close to getting back in front with a solo break from Kinghorn to set up the position and Bennett, the replacement centre, going over but losing the ball as he tried to ground it.
It all set up the dramatic finale for Fife and Kinghorn and sent the American fans home happy as the Scots were left to regroup ahead of their game in Argentina next week.
Townsend looks for positives
Gregor Townsend admits Scotland’s surprise defeat to the USA has taught him more about his players and how they deal with adversity.
Townsend, who gave seven players their first Test starts as he made wholesale changes to the side that thrashed Canada 48-10, said the performance served as a lesson to him.
He also admitted they need to be “much better”.
Townsend said: “We wanted to learn about players on this tour, we certainly wanted to give players opportunities to play.
“Maybe we could have had more off the bench and had more experienced players but sometimes you don’t get the guys off the bench that early or get injuries elsewhere.
“We will know more about the players and how they handle adversity away from home against a team that were fired up, especially in the second half.
“It is not good news but at least we came out of here knowing that. We need to be much better.”
Townsend added: “We did not win some of the collisions. The hooker (Tuafete’e) got through a number of tackles, those are areas that are disappointing.
“Their key players stood out for them and gave them that confidence that they could get back in the game, they did get back into the game pretty quickly in that second half.
“Sometimes we put some really good hits in but did not complete the tackle.”
Scotland now head south to take on Argentina at the Estadio Centenario in Resistencia next Saturday.
It is the final match of their summer tour and Townsend admits they will need to improve significantly against a Pumas side wounded by back-to-back home defeats to Wales.
“It (defeat to USA) is a huge downer. If it was the last game on tour, we would be even more disappointed but we have one more game and we have a tougher opponent who have lost two games and will be fired up,” he said.
“We will have to be much better next week but can right a lot of wrongs with a winning performance.
“We will look at how the players got on in terms of their improvement, what they were doing in training. We will look at the games – we have had almost everyone playing in the first two games.
“We strived to get wins in those games but individually we will know a lot more about the players and whether they can get back into the squad in November and whether they are realistic options for us in Japan (2019 World Cup).”
Stuart Hogg, who was captaining Scotland for the first time, admitted that “everyone is bitterly disappointed.”
He said: “We worked incredibly hard during the week to get ourselves into good places but come up short.
“As Gregor said, a lot of mistakes by us allowed the Americans to get into the game. That was really frustrating.
“It is one thing making a mistake, it is another making two with the snowball effect that comes after that.
“The majority of their points came from our errors. It is all about momentum shifts and taking opportunities and, credit to USA because they did exactly that. We didn’t work hard enough to get into our shape.”
USA coach Gary Gold was more pleased his his side’s performance than the result itself.
“The character that was shown by this group of players was immense,” he said.
“I know you won’t believe this is the truth but winning or losing was not our priority, but I wanted to see how far we could progress when we play against world-class opposition.
“At 24-13 down at half-time with three pretty soft tries and teams could have capitulated but we hung in there.
“Even if they had kicked the conversion at the end I would not feel different than I do now, it is good to know we have such a wonderful group of players.”