AFTER holding a 12-point lead at half-time, Scotland emerged from their second Pool A game just as they did from their first – with no more than a losing bonus point to show for their efforts. Bryan Easson’s side now need to beat hosts and world No 2 New Zealand next Saturday to have a realistic chance of going through to the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.
Australia ended up with only 13 women on the field at Whangarei’s Northland Events Centre after Ashley Marsters was red-carded four minutes from time and Adiana Talakai joined her in stoppage time for a second yellow. But by then they had done enough to get back in front, having used a strong wind to their advantage to hit back with two converted tries. Scotland’s first-half points had come from an unconverted Lana Skeldon touchdown and a penalty try.
“It’s a tough score to take,” Scotland captain Rachel Malcolm said after the match. “We put in a big first half and we really capitalised on putting pressure in there, which is something we didn’t do last week.
“From an attacking point of view we did a lot better than last week, but in the second half we just couldn’t get a hold of the ball or the get the territory that we needed to play. I’m really proud of the effort and attitude that the girls put in today. It’s been a learning curve for us the last two weeks but we have another opportunity next week to end on a good performance.”
With the best two third-placed teams going through from the three pools as well as the top two from each, Scotland are not out of the tournament yet. But, having expended so much physical and emotional energy for so little reward, they will have to dig deeper than ever before to find the reserves required to get a result against the formidable Black Ferns.
The first half began – and continued – in far more positive fashion than had been the case against Wales. The tone was set by Emma Orr, whose excellent tackle won a penalty and helped unsettle the Wallaroos.
A promising attack then fizzled out after Lisa Thomson’s pass to Hannah Smith was just too high and was knocked on by the winger, but the pressure was soon back on. A half-break from Rhona Lloyd yielded another penalty, and from the resultant lineout Lana Skeldon calmly executed at the back of the maul to score in the right corner. Kicking across a strong breeze, Helen Nelson was just wide with the conversion attempt.
Lloyd came close to adding a second midway through the half, only to be tackled short of the line and lose the ball forward. The Wallaroos began to come into their own after that with a ten-phase attack, but that was turned over and a long kick deep into Australian territory ended with stand-off Arabella McKenzie clearing for a poor touch.
The Australians conceded a penalty from the lineout maul, then a second after the award was sent back to touch. At the third time of asking, Skeldon broke from the back of the maul, and although she was held up on the line, the referee had spotted another offence and instantly awarded the penalty try. Hooker Talakai was yellow-carded for the persistent offending.
Australia enjoyed some of their best moments of the half when down to 14, and Scotland suffered a blow when Chloe Rollie injured a shoulder in a tackle and had to be taken off. But the half ended in positive fashion for the Scots when they withstood another attack comfortably.
Playing into the wind in the second half, Scotland were under pressure right from the opening minutes. The Wallaroos looked too anxious to score at first, committing some unforced errors, and after 55 minutes were held up on the line. They were soon back on the attack, however, and just before the hour mark Bienne Terita finished off on the left wing from a big overlap. Lori Cramer converted.
Terita was then only penalised for a high tackle when a yellow card looked likely, and she went on to torment the Scots defence with some threatening runs. One of them ended with her team being awarded a penalty in front of the posts, and a scrum was the option. Play went left, and although Cramer was held up, Marsters then blasted over thanks to a neat change of direction. Cramer’s conversion put Australia in the lead for the first time with seven minutes to go.
Ashley Marsters was then shown a red card for leading with the head in a tackle on Scots substitute Sarah Law. Then Talakai was shown a second yellow – and thus a red – for another shoulder-to-head tackle.
The latter offence was in time added on, and left Scotland with one last play to go for the win. Their penalty found touch inside their own half, and they were still there eight phases later when the ball was ripped from them and the match ended.
Scotland: Tries: Skeldon, penalty try,
Australia: Tries: Terita, Marsters. Cons: Cramer 2.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 5-0, 12-0 half-time, 12-5, 12-7, 12-12, 12-14.
Yellow cards: Australia: Talakai 27 and 80.
Red cards: Australia: Marsters 76, Talakai 80.
Scotland: C Rollie (S Campbell 38); R Lloyd, E Orr, L Thomson, H Smith; H Nelson (S Law 71), C Mattinson; M Wright (L Bartlett 61), L Skeldon, C Belisle (E Clarke 54), E Wassell, S Bonar, R Malcolm (captain), R McLachlan (J Rettie 74), J Konkel-Roberts. Unused substitutes: L O’Donnell, M McDonald, E Wills.
Australia: L Cramer; B Terita, G Friedrichs, S Williams (T Pomare 67); M Stewart (P Piliae-Rasabale 71), I Batibasaga (L Morgan 68); E Patu (E Robinson 62), A Talakai (A Marsters 67), E Karpani (B O’Gorman 61), S Naiqama, A Lafai (G Kemp 67), E Chancellor, S Parry (captain, A Marsters 30-38, P Duck 60), G Hamilton.
Referee: Lauren Jenner (New Zealand).