A busy and raucous BT Murrayfield set the scene for Scotland’s first international test against Australia who were fresh from a drubbing of Wales the weekend before.
After the kickoff, Australia ran through a few opening phases before a high ball catch from Finn Russell set Stuart Hogg loose in the midfield, picking his line to set Dunbar running in behind. There was a sniff of a try, but it would probably have been chalked off for Hogg’s less than subtle obstruction. In the end though, Greig Laidlaw put the team on the board after Tevita Kuridrani was adjudged offside.
As usual, Scotland (Ryan Wilson to be particular) made a balls of the very next offload and Australia came steaming back at them, before knocking on themselves.
The first scrum arrived for a front row who boasted 100 caps – but 99 of them from Ross Ford – and it was to some extent a success, Scotland getting the ball away after just the one reset.
The first bit of magic came from the Southern Hemisphere, but not where you might have predicted as Russell dinked a kick in behind the Wallaby defensive line and Stormers centre Huw Jones scythed on to the bouncing ball at an angle that put him through and clear from 30 metres out. A first start to remember.
Australia’s response, when it came, was brutally clinical: a set move from the lineout and some nice dummy angles before Reece Hodge powered over for the try. That pleasant looking ten point gap was now just three and Australia were definitely at the party.
Blood injuries to Richie Gray and Ryan Wilson meant that Cotter went to the bench earlier than he would have wanted. Gray returned but Wilson did not, leaving the back row looking a little lightweight but not short of zip.
Foley kicked a penalty after 22 minutes when Fagerson crumpled in one scrum and it was all square.
Australia were done for offside again giving Laidlaw another chance to take the lead. It was towards the edge of his range, but when Australia returned the missed kick, Hogg and Visser made good ground before a half dart from first Russell then Richie Gray put the Scots close to the line. It looked like they’d gone the wrong way with an overlap on the right and Maitland desparate to get involved but Huw Jones made up for lack of numbers with a weaving run through for his second try.
Australia had a great attacking chance on the half hour mark but some basic crossing did for them. At times the Scots defence looked to be teetering but Australia’s back moves were just within the capabilities of the scramble defence led by the excellent Dunbar and Barclay.
There were bruised bodies aplenty by half time, but it was a thoroughly competitive performance from Scotland and they were well worth the lead.
Half-time: Scotland 17-10 Australia
The second half got off to a slightly flat start, with Foley kicking a penalty very early on, but Scotland, led by the jinking mischief of Russell, soon warmed the crowd back up.
A lineout steal was followed by an attacking scrum and Stuart Hogg almost made a try from nothing but was tackled at the last gasp. After Jonny Gray powered over from short range and some deliberation by the officials, the ball was seen on the line and the try awarded. Laidlaw missed the conversion off the post
Australia never stopped attacking but while Folau punched a lot of holes with nice lines, the last pass or offload was too inaccurate and Scotland were able to pounce on the ball most of the time. The penalty count was creeping up though as the benches and tiredness unsettled Scotland a little.
John Hardie, who had been like a buzz-saw since he came on and made a dynamic pair with Hamish Watson, suffered a nasty looking leg injury on the hour mark which meant Scotland had three second rows on the pitch, luckily though there was a lot of defending done which was meat and drink to any forward, out of position or not.
Scotland had a great attacking chance when Visser ran through onto Hogg’s deft chip but with little space to work in, the ball bounced the wrong way even as Folau shoved him in the opposite direction. Scotland snaffled the lineout and Gicrhist got them moving, but then they undid all that good work with a penalty for crossing.
As Scotland tired, Australia sniffed a way back into the match, bruising runners testing the tackling of wilting bodies and with just over ten minutes left to play they kicked into the corner, looking for a try to restore their lead. They had the penalty but Will Skelton, always a bit of a lump, was spotted shoulder barging a prostrate Johnny Gray in the ruck and once again Scotland were spared a killing blow.
In a second half where it had been all Australia, they went to the same corner with six minutes to play and Kuridrani punched a hole then displayed remarkable dexterity to stretch out and dab the ball down, Foley converting to put Australia in the lead with four minutes left.
Scotland attacked phase by phase, but the ball was lost forward and Lacey awarded the scrum even as Skelton returned the Wallabies to 15 men. With a minute left and the scrum reset, they were losing to Australia by a single point, again.
Scotland earned a free kick at the scrum and had one last chance to attack, but were battered backwards with every carry. They fought for every metre against an Australia side with an iron grip on that point lead and ultimately the visitors were able to cling on.
This was not as frustrating as the Twickenham loss, mostly because it was a test match that Scotland were thoroughly deserving of their place in and they did not have to rely on good fortune or the referee (well done Lacey) to come so close. They’ll need to look at the way Australia were able to suffocate them out of the second half and find some way to maintain the freewheeling style that served them so well in the first.
There will be bruised spirits and bodies after this one, but Scotland have a lot to take heart from heading into the test against Argentina next week.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Centre Huw Jones owned that first half, and while quieter in the second half when Scotland were starved of possession, has showed that he’s well worth his place. Honourable mentions also to John Barclay, who quite simply kept going until he was broken.