Scotland welcomed a full crowd back to BT Murrayfield and sent the large majority home happy as they squeezed past Australia, ending the Wallabies five-match winning run and winning the Raeburn Shield off them in the process.
An error-laden but entertaining opening half started as it meant to go on with a Finn Russell kick being charged down after about 30 seconds. Fortunately for the Scotland stand-off, Len Ikitau’s no-look offload went straight into the hands of Matt Fagerson.
James O’Connor sent a 5th minute penalty attempt right of the posts, and once they had retaken possession from the drop-out, Nic White’s chip over the top forced Stuart Hogg to knock-on for the first scrum of the match.
Zander Fagerson was given the credit for winning the penalty up against James Slipper, and it was the first of many small victories over the Wallaby front-row.
The Scotland front-row were forced into an early change when George Turner had to be replaced by Ewan Ashman, for what was to prove a memorable debut.
The high tempo remained but somehow so did the scoreboard at 0-0. A break down the left started by Stuart Hogg took Scotland into the Australia 22 but seconds later a spill by Russell ended with Hogg being dragged over his own try-line by Tom Wright.
Hamish Watson’s prowess on the deck forced the Australian error to give Scotland the penalty, and Watson showed he’s the all-round package when he opened the scoring soon afterwards.
With frontline pair Jonny Gray and Scott Cummings missing; plus the intimidating figures of Izak Rodda and Rory Arnold contesting your throws, Scotland had mixed up their throws, and on this occasion scored from an inventive set-play, creating a mini-pod of forwards off from the main one in the line.
Watson v Hooper had been one of the most eagerly awaited head-to-heads in this fixture, and the Aussie captain thought he had matched Watson by scoring, only for his try to be disallowed through no fault of his own.
Hooper had picked up from the base of a ruck, bustling and stretching his way over the line, however, teammate Allan Alaalatoa had given Matt Fagerson a glancing clip when clearing out. Contact was light, but it was to the head and seemed a bit reckless, so Alaalatoa went for a
breather in the sin bin.
Scotland being Scotland; they instantly turned possession over to the 14-man Aussies, and then conceded a penalty from which James O’Connor reduced the deficit.
Half-time: Scotland 7 – 3 Australia
Scotland further Scotlanded the sin bin period by giving away a cheap penalty through Zander Fagerson despite Romain Poite – making his last Test match appearance – screaming at him to leave the ball alone.
Sam Johnson showed exactly how solid he is when his enormous collision with Taniela Tupou, aka “Tongan Thor”, knocked the tighthead on his backside, but as Tupou staggered back to his feet, Stuart Hogg knocked on.
Tupou was rightly removed from the field for his own safety, and as he was still trudging down the tunnel his teammates scored quickly off the scrum. Replacement Izaia Perese did the most damage carrying hard up the middle of the 22, and Rob Leota took O’Connor’s reverse pass easily to the line.
For all the adventure and occasional moment of quality, Scotland were struggling to build pressure, eager to get the ball wide without having earned the right, and whenever they had penalty advantage they went for the Hail Mary early.
The try which did eventually come did have a touch of the miraculous to it, as once again a Scotland hooker crossed the try-line, but none quite in this fashion as far as I recall, debutant Ashman bundling through Parese and diving acrobatically into the corner to regain the lead for Scotland.
The lead didn’t last long when Jamie Ritchie was harshly penalised for not rolling away and O’Connor knocked over his second penalty to make it 12-13 with 15 minutes to play.
Scotland took the opportunity to replace their props before the restart; Jamie Bhatti and Oli Kebble coming on for Pierre Schoeman and Zander Fagerson but the change in personnel did not change the flow of dominance, as once again Scotland won the penalty on the tight-head side.
Finn Russell stayed composed to knock the ball through to put Scotland 2 points up with just over ten minutes to play.
It may have been the familiarity of a majority of the Scotland squad with one or more members of the Australian coaching team, but both sides defended well, forcing errors, and posing a turnover threat at the breakdown.
Even the introduction of George Horne and Adam Hastings creating the coveted “Full Cats At A Rave” triumvirate was not enough to unlock the Ozzies one final time to make the scoreline more comfortable, but a professional win against a form team, achieved when not firing on all cylinders is nothing to be sniffed at.
Referee: Romain Poite
SRBlog POTM: for being unphased on a 70-min debut, throwing consistent arrows and the wonder finish of a winger, Ewan Ashman.