Australia 19-24 Scotland: Scots hold on for famous win
When sport is like this, there are few spectacles more dramatic.
A game that had ebbed and flowed both ways, each side having periods in charge, each making mistakes to let the other in. Then, finally, Scotland held their nerve under huge pressure in the finale to squeeze out their second consecutive win in Australia, following up the triumph in 2012 when they prevailed 9-6 in Newcastle.
The result moves them up to fifth place when the World Rugby rankings are published on Monday, and sets them up for another clean sweep of a Southern Hemisphere tour, with only the heat of Fiji to come.
Though the teams scored three tries each and Finn Russell’s boot made the difference on the scoreboard, what really settled the result was the magnificent, passionate defence at the death when Australia threw everything at the Scots. They came within inches of scoring but could not find a way through.
It was brave and courageous, though nobody could call it error free. Even at the death, Scotland seemed to have messed things up when all they had to do was run down the clock for another few seconds only to concede a penalty and chuck the Wallabies another chance.
Tackle after tackle went in until Alex Dunbar legally his got hands into a ruck, the Wallabies refused to let go and the penalty went Scotland’s way, allowing Russell to clear the ball to end the game and claim the win.
It was sweet revenge for the Scots who lost out to the same opponents by a single point in the controversial 2015 World Cup quarter final and then by the same margin last November. To lose two like that was hard to take, goodness knows what it would have felt like to lose three.
Though Scotland took the lead in the second minute and held if for all bar six minutes, the way they were made to defend in the final minutes inevitably brought back memories of those emotional losses.
If the closing minutes were all about guts and determination, the other part of the match that mattered came in that period after the Scots surrendered their lead for the first and last time. For ten minutes or so, they played close to perfect rugby and the try that put them ahead was a real team effort to set the position up with the forwards recycling the ball through endless phases until Duncan Taylor worked some space for Lee Jones on the outside.
He wrong-footed and leapt over the defender, drew the cover to sent Taylor away where he drew the final defender and put Hamish Watson, the flanker, in for the try that restored Scotland’s lead.
Though the game was being played in Sydney, the spiritual home of Australian rugby, it was Scotland who settled first, helped by a first-minute penalty kicked by full-back Greig Tonks, his first points in Test rugby on his seventh cap.
There was an element of fortune about the try – Will Genia, the most experienced Wallaby on the field, messed up a simple pass for Taylor to collect and stroll over.
That woke the Wallabies from their slumber, winning a series of penalties to get to within five yards of the Scots line and when the visitors over-committed to defending the maul, a huge pass out to the backs put Israel Folau in acres of space to score, with Foley landing the conversion.
The suicidal tendencies among the Wallabies had not faded, however, with Russell being allowed to break clear from a 22 drop out taken to himself that created the gap. A late hit from Brendan Foley earned the Wallaby a spell in the sin bin.
Without him, Genia had to take on the job of clearing the ball from his own line and messed up again as Russell charged the kick down, collected on the full for the try he converted himself.
Another line out maul and again the Scots defence was sucked in. A cross kick to Folau gave him the space to out-jump Tonks and claim the second Wallaby try, leaving his side five points adrift at the break.
The second half was a tense affair, with the Wallabies gong ahead when Genia made amends for his mistakes with a try round the side of a ruck before Watson finished Jones’s break to set up the finale.
Scotland 24 (Duncan Taylor, Finn Russell, Hamish Watson tries; Russell 3 conversions, Greig Tonks penalty); Australia 19 (Israel Folau 2, Will Genia tries; Bernard Foley 2 conversions). HT: 17-12.