DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield
A GAME of cat and mouse ended with Scotland purring in satisfaction and Australia squeaking in frustration. Two teams who pride themselves on playing lively, attacking rugby, couldn’t quite impose themselves like we know they can with ball in hand, but that won’t matter a jot to the victorious hosts, who showed plenty of courage and nerve to pick up their third win on the bounce against these opponents.
The Wallabies arrived at Murrayfield riding high on a five-match winning streak, although they were without three of their big performers from those recent successes who have opted to stay with their Japanese clubs rather than tour with their country. Scotland can only beat what is put in front of them, and over the course of the 80 minutes they deserved this result – even if the Wallabies will be frustrated at having two first-half tries chalked off for offences during the build-up.
Next up for Scotland is South Africa at Murrayfield. A huge challenge against the Lions-conquering world champions, but Australia beat the Springboks in back-to-back matches at the start of September, and Wales gave them a run for their money yesterday, so Gregor Townsend‘s boys will feel they have nothing to fear.
Australian playmaker James O’Connor passed up an opportunity to nudge the visitors into a fourth minute lead when he pushed his shot at goal to the right of the posts after Sam Skinner was penalised for a side entry.
Darcy Graham was clearly eager to make his mark during this opening period, sprinting 30-yards at one point to take a quick tap penalty, although he was fortunate a few minutes later when his attempt at triggering something from deep led to an interception only for Australian outside-centre Len Ikitau to lose his footing with the try-line at his mercy.
There was plenty of intent during this period, but not quite the accuracy required for either side to really hit their straps.
There was a moment to get the crowd going when Stuart Hogg somehow found his way through a crowd of gold jerseys to launch an attack up the left touchline, carried on by Ali Price and then Duhan van der Merwe. When the big winger was eventually brought down, Australia went off their feet, but Scotland failed to capitalise on that penalty in the danger zone.
A few minutes later, there was confusion when Hogg was caught in possession and jostled back over his own line. It looked like he had managed to offload off the deck for Graham to clear, but referee Romain Poite wasn’t so sure, initially giving a scrum-five to Australia, then a line-out to the tourists when the big screen indicated the ball had not been grounded, then a scrum again when the TMO insisted it had been grounded. It was a fuss over nothing in the end, with Australia being penalised for going off their feet in the next play, and the game returning to the middle of the park battle it had been for the first 15 minutes.
Finally, the deadlock was broken when Scotland passed up three easy points to kick an offside penalty to the corner, and were rewarded with a Hamish Watson try off a clever move initiated by middle-jumper Jamie Ritchie tapping down to Grant Gilchrist at the front. There was another hold-up as Poite and the TMO discussed a possible obstruction, but the referee ultimately went with his on-field decision.
Australia were left frustrated when Tom Wright went over on the left, only for play to be pulled back for an off-the-ball tackle earlier in the passage of play, but the Wallabies kept the pressure on and they had another try chalked off on 35 minutes when tight-head Allan Alaalatoa was judged, perhaps harshly, to have caught Matt Fagerson with a swinging arm as he cleared out a ruck just before Michael Hooper stretched over the line.
To add to the away team’s sense of grievance, they were also reduced to 14 men for the next 10 minutes with Alaalatoa being sent to the sin-bin, but they didn’t let that distract them, and O’Connor finally got Australia off the mark on 39 minutes with a well-struck penalty after Matt Fagerson was penalised for going off his feet.
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A massive collision when Sam Johnson carried into Taniela Tupou left the Australian replacement tight-head clearly concussed and he had to be replaced, meaning Australia had two loose-heads at the next scrum, but it stacked up and after a powerful burst through the middle by Izaia Perese, the ball was sent back the way it had come and Rob Leota charged through a gaping hole between Pierre Schoeman and Sam Skinner to score, with O’Connor adding the conversion.
Scotland looked to bounce back immediately, with Johnson looping round to create an opening on the left, and Price once again on hand to keep the move going, but the move floundered when Matt Fagerson lost possession in contact.
There was a fair bit cautious kicking for territory during this third quarter. Then, after an excellent 50-22 by Finn Russell set up a great line-out platform, and slick hands gave van der Merwe the chance of a gallop on the left, before Nic White did well to bring the big man down. Play swept back to the right, but Hogg’s pass to Graham was cut-out by Tom Wright.
Eventually, the pressure told, with hooker Ewan Ashman marking his international debut by carrying on the prolific try-scoring record of his Scotland Under-20s days with a brilliantly taken try under pressure in the left corner.
Australia got their noses back in front when O’Connor nailed the points from 40-yards out and directly in front of the posts after Watson was penalised as he tried to pilfer possession over a tackle, but Russell responded in kind with just over 20 minutes to go after a collapsed scrum, and that’s how it stayed until the end.
Scotland closed out the game well. There was some good work from Jamie Hodgson and Ritchie when they tag-teamed Kurtley Beale to prevent the recycle and win a vital scrum, while replacements Kyle Steyn and Josh Bayliss – on debut – both won excellent turnovers.
The Bayliss turnover prompted a sweeping attack involving Russell, Hogg, Steyn and George Horne, before a tackle was taken when a pass inside looked the better option, and when the ball was recycled Russell over-cooked a cross-field kick and it went out on the full. It was a shame the Scots couldn’t finish with a flourish, but nobody of a tartan hue will be losing much sleep over that.
Scotland: S Hogg; D Graham (K Steyn 60), C Harris, S Johnson (A Hastings 73), D van der Merwe; F Russell, A Price (G Horne 72); P Schoeman (J Bhatti 66), G Turner (E Ashman 11), Z Fagerson (O Kebble 66), S Skinner ( J Hodgson 63), G Gilchrist, J Ritchie, H Watson (J Bayliss 72), M Fagerson.
Australia: A Kellaway; J Petaia (I Perese 39), L Ikitau, H Paisami, T Wright (K Beale 67); J O’Connor, N White (T McDermott 67); J Slipper, F Fainga’a (C McInerney 73), A Alaalatoa (A Bell 55-63), R Arnold (W Skelton 50), I Rodda, R Leota (P Samu 60), M Hooper, R Valetini (T Tupou 38, A Bell 43, R Valetini 45).
Scotland: Tries: Watson, Ashman; Con: Russell; Pen: Russell.
Australia: Try: Leota; Con: O’Connor; Pen: O’Connor 2.
Scoring Sequence (Scotland first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-3 (h-t) 7-8; 7-10; 12-10; 12-13; 15-13;
Yellow cards –
Australia: Alaalatoa (36mins)