STUART BATHGATE @ Murrayfield
SCOTLAND have been threatening this kind of performance for some time. We just did not expect them to produce it to such devastating effect against Australia, given how tight recent meetings between the two have been.
The margin of victory had a lot to do with the fact that the Wallabies were a man down for just over half the match after the sending-off of Sepoke Kepu, and Scotland’s eighth and final try came after Kurtley Beale’s yellow card had reduced the visitors to 13. But make no mistake: this was an enthralling display of self-confident running rugby, one which rounded off the Autumn Test series on the highest of high notes.
And it was all done without Stuart Hogg, who was ruled out after pulling a muscle during the warm-up. Sean Maitland moved from wing to full-back, Byron McGuigan was promoted from the substitutes to start at No 11, and Ruaridh Jackson came on to the bench. .With Alex Dunbar having been ruled out by concussion after initially being named in the team, there was an unfamiliar look to the home team, which perhaps explains the indifferent start they made.
By contrast, the Wallabies began brightly, and although Reece Hodge was wide with with an early penalty, their phase play was very threatening. Once Scotland did shake themselves awake, however, they began to impress, and one driving maul that gained about 30 metres brought the crowd to their feet – only for them to sit back down again despondently when Finn Russell missed touch with the penalty that resulted.
McGuigan made an unforced error too, dropping a pass on the verge of the Australian 22, but by then the winger had also shown his strength in a couple of charges. The Australian defence appeared discomfited by Scotland’s speed and invention in attack, and after quarter of an hour they conceded a penalty in front of the posts, from which Russell opened the scoring.
Up to that point the Wallabies had looked strong in attack, but that changed two minutes later when a loose pass from Kurtley Beale went to ground. McGuigan hacked it on, and although Michael Hooper got back to cover, the bounce fell kindly for the Scot, and two kicks later he touched down for a try which Russell converted.
McGuigan thought he had scored again two minutes later after again chipping and running, but the TMO ruled that Will Genia had carried the ball over his own line before the winger had made contact. Scotland were awarded a scrum five, but lost the chance to build on their lead by engaging early.
Australia had faded after their early promise, but they hit back in the closing minutes of the half with two tries in quick succession, both scored by Tevita Kuridrani and created by Bernard Foley. First the centre easily won the chase for a kick through by the stand-off, who added the two points, and then, after Tommy Seymour had spilled the ball, Foley gathered his own kick and passed off the deck to Kuridrani, who strolled over from five metres out.
The second score went unconverted, but Australia were still 12-10 ahead, and should have seen the half out. Instead, they first lost a man, and then the lead.
The man was Sekope Kepu, red-carded for diving off his at a ruck and smashing his head into Hamish Watson’s. The try was scored by Ali Price, who just made it over the line off the back of a lineout maul after Russell had kicked the penalty against Kepu to touch. That made it 17-12 at the break, with the try and the dismissal combining to put Scotland in the driving seat.
Or at least it did until Australia scored again four minutes into the second half, with relentless pressure eventually paying off as Kurtley Beale crossed the line. Foley missed the chance to put his team ahead again, and within two minutes Sean Maitland had given Scotland the lead, racing clear of some sluggish cover defence from halfway after the Wallabies had coughed up the ball in midfield.
Jonny Gray then crossed after an excellent break by substitute Jamie Bhatti, and Russell’s conversion took the lead to a dozen points with half an hour still to play. Maintaining the pressure, Scotland then scored again when Price took a quick tap and Huw Jones did the rest.
Wallabies hooker Stephen Moore left the field to a standing ovation, having announced that this game would be his last in professional rugby. That was just a brief let-up, however, and within a minute McGuigan scored again, squeezing in at the corner as Scotland once more made excellent use of the extra man.
A lineout drive from a penalty ended with Lopeti Timani stretching over for the Wallabies’ third try with 10 minutes to go, reminding Scotland that they were not yet quite home and try. John Barclay scored with five minutes to go, however, to assuage any worries.
Beale’s late yellow card reduced Australia to 13 men, and from a penalty kicked to the corner Stuart McInally scored off the back of the lineout. Scotland had gone past the half-century, easily their biggest score ever against the Wallabies.
Scotland: S Maitland (R Jackson 73); T Seymour, H Jones, P Horne (P Burleigh 63), B McGuigan; F Russell, A Price (H Pyrgos 67); D Marfo (J Bhatti 45), S McInally (F Brown 58), S Berghan (Z Fagerson 45), G Gilchrist (B Toolis 55), J Gray, J Barclay, H Watson (C du Preez 67), R Wilson.
Australia: K Beale; M Koroibete (H Speight 68), T Kuridrani, S Kerevi (K Hunt 62), R Hodge; B Foley, W Genia (N Phipps 58); S Sio (T Faulkner 72), S Moore (T Polota-Nau 60), S Kepu, R Simmons (L Timani 67), B Enever (L Tui 55), B McCalman (T Tupou 55), M Hooper, S McMahon.
Scorers: Scotland: Tries: McGuigan 2, Price, Maitland, Gray, Jones, Barclay, McInally. Cons: Russell 5. Pen: Russell.
Australia: Tries: Kuridrani 2, Beale, Timani. Cons: Foley 2. Pens:
Scoring sequence: 3-0, 8-0, 10-0, 10-5, 10-7, 10-12, 15-12, 17-12 half-time, 17-17, 22-17, 27-17, 29-17, 34-17, 39-17, 39-22, 39-24 44-24, 46-24, 51-24, 53-24.
Yellow card: Beale 79.
Red card: Kepu 39.
Referee: P Gauzere (France).