CHARLIE SHIEL picked up from the base of a creaking scrum under the shadow of Australia’s posts and brushed off a despairing challenge from his opposite number on his way to snatching a sensational match-winning try on the stroke of full-time, which secured a fifth place finish for Scotland at this year’s Junior World Cup in Tbilisi in Georgia this lunchtime. Scotland’s previous best ever finish was eighth.
This success is all the more remarkable because it has been achieved whilst relying almost exclusively on a core of less than 20 players who have heroically fronted up again and again in five gruelling matches played over an eighteen day period.
This side was regarded as fairly inexperienced (even by Under-20s standards) at the start of this season but have confounded expectations by playing a fearless brand of expansive rugby which has continually caught their better fancied opponents on the hop. They lost their opening match of this tournament against eventual champions New Zealand but were not disgraced. In fact, the 42-20 score-line in that match compares rather favourably to the 64-17 drubbing that the All blacks handed out to England in the main final; and since then the Scots have gone from strength to strength.
In this match, loose-head prop George Thornton had four minutes off the pitch to get patched up midway through the second half, but apart from that the front-row lasted the entire 80-minutes, and still had the energy to hold on against a formidable Australian challenge in that high pressure scrum which facilitated the winning score at the death.
Three players – captain Callum Hunter-Hill, flanker Luke Crosbie and utility back Ross McCann – have played all of every game; while full-back Blair Kinghorn and centre Stafford McDowall have missed just a few minutes over the course of the tournament. Eleven players in total have started all five matches.
Unfortunately, it was only possible to watch this game in the UK if you managed to secure an illegal online stream because ITV bought the rights to all knock-out matches in this Junior World Cup but were only interested in showing the final between England and New Zealand.
Australia eased into a 10-0 lead thanks to a try, a conversion and a penalty from scrum-half Harrison Goddard; before Scotland edged their way back into the contest with a Connor Eastgate penalty just before the break.
A dropped ball in midfield was capitalised on by Kinghorn, who made good ground before sending Robbie Nairn home, and Eastgate’s conversion tied to the scores in the 47th minute.
Replacement scrum-half Shiel showed great strength to muscle over from close range and put the Scots ahead on the 56th minute, with Eastgate adding the conversion.
The young Wallabies bounced back when a loose pass from Shiel to Darcy Graham ended up bouncing into the arms of Goddard, and he scampered home from just inside the Scottish half, then added the conversion for good measure. But the scrum-half then missed a long range penalty into the wind with just under ten minutes left on the clock.
A Scotland line-out drive launched a siege on the Australian line and when the ball was sent wide Kinghorn nearly sneaked over, but he was lassoed down at the last moment by Australian outside centre Izaia Perese. The Scots were awarded the scrum but they had been under an increasing amount of pressure in this area, and on this occasion they finally cracked – with Australia earning the penalty and able to temporarily clear the pressure.
The Scots dug deep once again, recaptured possession and worked their way back to within striking distance. When an exhausted McDowall dropped the ball with two minutes to go it looked like extra-time was on the cards, but the Wallabies failed to clear their lines, and then some quick-thinking by Eastgate to hold his opposite number off the ground in the tackle was rewarded with a Scottish scrum under the shadow of the posts.
Scotland managed a quick strike and Shiel set off like a hare out the traps, brushing off a Goddard tackle on his way to the line. There was a hold-up before the score was awarded, with the TMO looking at a tussle between the two open side flankers on the side of the scrum, before eventually deciding that no player was more culpable than the other and that Australia’s Angus Scott-Young was unlikely to have got to Shiel in any case.
A controversial decision? Perhaps. But this young Scottish team have become masters in that ancient art [once an alien concept to the rugby players of this nation] of making their own luck.
Scotland: B Kinghorn; R Nairn, R McCann, S McDowall (L Berg 78), D Graham; C Eastgate, A Simmers (C Shiel 46); G Thornton (F Bradury 63-67), F Renwick, A Nicol, A Craig (H Bain 55), C Hunter-Hill, L Crosbie, M Fagerson, T Dodd.
Australia: L McNamara; H Hutchison (D Riley 41), I Perese, S Tuipoluto (J Stewart 63), S Tupou; J Stewart (N Jooste 57), H Goddard; C Walker (G Luka 57), J Uelese (E Maafu, 73), S Vui (H Johnson-Holmes 46), R McCauley (L Swinton 29), H Hockings, A Scott-Young, L Wright, R Hewat.
Scotland: Tries: Nairn Shiel 2; Con: Eastgate 3; Pen: Eastgate
Australia: Tries: Goddard 2; Con: Goddard 2; Pen: Goddard.
Scoring Sequence (Scotland first): 0-5; 0-7; 0-10; 3-10 (h-t) 8-10; 10-10; 15-10; 17-10; 17-15; 17-17 22-17; 24-17.
Man-of-the-Match: It has to go to the man-of-the-moment Charlie Shiel, who scored two tries ff the bench including the match-winner.
Talking Point: The fact that this game was not televised on the UK is a black mark against World Rugby and their sense of priorities.