Scotland slip up but new stars find their feet

Scotland's Huw Jones (right) celebrates scoring his second try of the game versus Australia at Murrayfield. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS
Scotland's Huw Jones (right) celebrates scoring his second try of the game versus Australia at Murrayfield. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS
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There was a lot resting on the shoulders of new Scotland props Allan Dell and Zander Fagerson – a hellava lot. There was the battered pride of the sporting nation after woebegone Wembley. There were those pink shirts worn by our footballers – their memory definitely needed obliterating.

There was the memory of the last time our rugby team played Australia – 18 October 2015 in the quarter-finals of the World Cup, the biggest hard-luck story in all Scottish sport. And maybe for Fagerson at some point in his life there had been the additional burden of being called Zander Fagerson.

But you wanted to say yesterday, shout it out in fact: enough of the victim culture, the weeping and wailing, the poor us. This was a different sport from the previous night, and an entirely different game of rugby from the one a year ago. Let the team, and in particular the new boys, focus on that: it was going to be tough enough.

Dell was completely new. 
Fagerson could have lent over just before the first scrum and said: “Let me give you the benefit of my full 12 minutes’ experience.” Thankfully the meat in this front-row 
sandwich was Ross Ford, the hooker, who was officially 
becoming a centurion of 
boiler-room grunting.

Surely, though, the newbies were going to be targeted by Australia who had paid Scotland the compliment of playing all their stars rather than the normal tourist practice of using the Murrayfield date for rest and trying new things. Opposite Fagerson with his 12 minutes was Sekope Kepu winning his 75th cap.

The sight of Israel Folau, collecting his 50th, and Bernard Foley and the rest confirmed the Wallabies meant business. This told us, perhaps, that after defeats by the All Blacks and England they were seeking redemption of their own. A touring Grand Slam, maybe, their first since the Lynagh/Ella/Campese brilliance of 1984?

The first reason to be impressed by the Aussies was their singing. With few of their countrymen in the ground they took on the anthem themselves. Fair dinkum. Right on kick-off there was a fly-past by three Tornadoes from RAF Lossiemouth. Scotland began just as quick, Alex Dunbar exploding through the middle. Fagerson had a hand in the next phase and Greig Laidlaw notched a penalty.

Stephen Moore, the green-and-gold captain, showed how front-row guys threaten scores with a barreling surge and lovely flip pass. But Kepu showed how not to do it, dropping the ball at the crucial moment.

The props weren’t the only guys starting for the first time and centre Huw Jones for Scotland’s opening try enjoyed the kind of benevolent bounce, from a Finn Russell chip, that all Murrayfield debutants must dream about.

After that a succession of injuries broke up the flow and a flashing Reece Hodge try broke into Scotland’s lead. Then Fagerson was involved in a full and frank exchange of views with the Aussie pack and a Foley penalty levelled the match.

Not for long. That man Jones, playing like he’d been around for a while, zipped over for his second try, the pass coming from none other than Fagerson. It was a fast, open, engrossing game of few scrums to test the props but plenty of opportunity for the Scottish midfield to show their flair. At the end of the first half, Moore was sacked by John Barclay, a great trophy because the shiny-headed skipper is so conspicuous and influential. And there was just time for Dell to get in on the act with a ten-yard trundle with the ball before being felled.

Dell lasted enough of the second half, before being replaced, to see Jonny Gray’s try. For a brief moment the crowd – a record for the fixture – wondered if there might be another great refereeing outrage: the score looked good though John Lacey requested another look. But oh how the Scots would rue Laidlaw’s conversion attempt banging off a post.

Fagerson, after a good match, was off by the time Gray was clobbered by Will Skelton who was yellow-carded, reducing Wallaby options for what the fates had decreed would be another utterly gripping Scots-Oz finale. Heroic defence kept out a succession of Aussie attacks but Tevita Kuridrani couldn’t be halted.

There wasn’t quite time for a riposte. Scotland had lost tragically to Australia – again. But they wore dark blue and there was no disgrace. Laidlaw vowed to take the World Cup loss to the grave. Let’s hope he’s not too hard on himself for that missed kick.