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RWC2021: Scotland v Australia talking points

Australia vs Scotland
Ashley Marsters of Australia scores a try during the match between Scotland and Australia on October 15, 2022, in Whangarei, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Another week, another tight loss. This time we did heartbreak the opposite way round with a solid start eventually being ground down into a loss. Australia may have been overwhelming favourites going into the game, but somehow that makes it feel even worse that they couldn’t build on a good first half to see out the win, even as the Australia forwards in particular dragged them back into the game.  Let’s try pick out the positives and try work out where it went wrong for Scotland.

Tireless defence  – it’s certainly hard to fault Scotland’s defensive efforts, with the team once again recording a huge 186 tackles. Part of that seemed to be due to a tactic of not competing too much at the breakdown to ensure bodies were in place in the defensive line, thereby leaving no space for Australia’s backs to attack through. And given the Wallaroos had a few Sevens stars in there, it was an understandable and mostly successful approach.

The tactic worked well in the first half, but as the Australian forwards and subs carried harder and harder, it didn’t really help Scotland regain territory in the second half as the wind made it more difficult to clear lines. And with Australia usually successfully clearing out the occasional jackal attempt, Scotland were reliant on Australian mistakes to regain possession.

Wrecking maul – a further positive is that the maul remains a potent weapon. There were plenty of opportunities in the first half as the wind aided Scotland’s smart use of territory – it meant that less possession could still be turned into a 12-point half-time lead.  But in the second half, the wind prevented as much distance on the kick (and a couple were on what seemed a too-high trajectory), which meant that there were no line-outs nearer the Wallaroos’ try line.

Player advantage has to count – Scotland have been good at taking advantage of having an extra player on the pitch in recent times – most notably the try against Ireland that got them to the World Cup. But they couldn’t do the same on Saturday.

Perhaps the most frustrating was a decision to go down the short side near the end of the first yellow card period when the gap just wasn’t there.  And things seemed to get a little frenetic after the red card, leading to a couple of snatched passes and ultimately a knock-on. Utilising the extra player has been a strength, but perhaps being short of confidence after so many narrow losses saw them trying to force things a bit more than they need. Scotland would have been favourites in the cancelled game against Spain and who knows: if they had got the win, that could have taken a bit of a monkey off their back and helped sustain them mentally in the dying minutes against Australia.

Workloads take a toll as little mistakes add up– as mentioned in previous pieces, Scotland have not readily gone to their subs bench this year.  A few more were used this week, only one injury enforced (get well soon Chloe Rollie). But with only a six-day turnaround following an immense physical shift and emotionally draining experience against Wales, there were definitely signs of tiredness from Scotland. It seemed to manifest it in the occasional poor pass, less good than usual decision making and a lack of speed in attack.

There were no real howlers, and little mistakes didn’t lead directly to Australia scoring, but they snuffed out several high-potential attacking opportunities or meant pressure had to be soaked up for longer, until Australia finally broke through. Having enough strength in depth so that the coaches can manage workloads isn’t something Scotland will crack by next week, but hopefully is something that can be a focus into next year and the dawn of the contracted-pro era.

Sometimes it feels like the universe really is against us – Before watching the game back, I had been planning on making some comment about how, despite both coming in off a run of seven defeats, it probably wasn’t a surprise that the game swung in the favour of the nation known for ruthless sporting triumph, rather than the world-leader in brave, narrow, heartbreaking defeats. But on the second viewing, there also seemed to be a huge dash of Scottish bad luck in there too.

This is a tale of two scrums.

The first was during the first yellow card period. Scotland had an attacking line out, not quite close enough to drive for the line, but an excellent position. The maul is solid, Scotland get ready to run a strike play and… the referee gets in the way of the pass. Scrum Scotland, it wheels round and Australia get what the commentators describe as a 50:50 penalty decision in their favour. Had Scotland scored there, Australia’s second-half job would have become ever so much tougher.

In the second half, after weathering significant pressure in their own half, Scotland’s defence extracts a knock-on from Australia. After a couple of passes, Thompson puts in a clearing kick. It rolls into a large area of grass with no defenders and the ball is now over the Australia ten-metre line. Now in pretty much any game I’ve watched, that is “advantage over”, and the game continues. No-one has even picked up the ball yet when the referee brings play well back into Scotland’s half for a scrum. Australia duly pick up a penalty at the scrum that to my mind should never have taken place. And after two intervening penalties the Wallaroos are over the line for the winning try.

So very, very Scotland.

Scotland have to pick themselves up and go again for their biggest challenge yet against the Black Ferns.

We might have to hope the universe takes pity on us after this weekend and gives us a lot of luck and then some if we’re to record what I understand to be the first-ever XVs win over New Zealand by any Scottish representative side.  

The team has nothing to lose and can hopefully go out there and show what they are about. Hopefully not yet another variety of heartbreak.

3 Responses

  1. Astonishingly bad luck. The women deserved so much more. Hopefully, once they’ve had a chance to assimilate these defeats, they’ll realise they have every reason to be confident about the future.

  2. Both games so far: great workrate, some good play with the ball, great defense, but kicking has been a let off for the opposition, who were ultimately not punished for infringing.

    1. I think that one rule tweak would be good for the women’s game, where many teams have kickers that can punt it 40-50 metres or so…if it’s 35 to the sideline then the chance to gain metres from a PK is limited. I think a tap or scrum advanced 10m would be a fair option.

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