Scotland have talent to build on World Cup near-miss

Stuart Hogg: Cemented his reputation as world-class No 15. Picture: Jane Barlow
Stuart Hogg: Cemented his reputation as world-class No 15. Picture: Jane Barlow
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WHEN Craig Joubert draws up his list of holiday destinations next year, you can bet Scotland will not feature anywhere on it.

The South African referee sealed his status as public enemy number one north of the border with his controversial – and according to World Rugby, incorrect – decision to hand Australia a last-gasp penalty in the World Cup quarter-final clash at Twickenham.

The crucial call robbed Scotland of their greatest ever rugby triumph and ensured their 24-year wait for a slot in the last four lingers on. But while the criticism for Joubert was long and loud, the fact remains Vern Cotter’s team were just as much to blame for their exit.

Having been gifted three tries by the Wallabies to take a 34-32 lead with just seconds remaining, all they needed to do was keep possession. Why, therefore, they instructed hooker 
Fraser Brown to throw to the back of his line-out remains a mystery.

In true Scottish style, defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory when he overcooked his delivery and in the scramble that followed, Joubert got himself in a muddle as the ball popped off the arm of Australia scrum-half Nick Phipps to the offside Scotland prop Jon Welsh. Joubert immediately blew for an Australian penalty – successfully booted over by the previously erratic Bernard Foley – when he should have ordered a scrum.

It was a cruel, if self-inflicted defeat, but Scotland must not allow themselves to slump into a period of self-pity and instead grasp the positives of a thrilling campaign.

In centre Mark Bennett they have a finisher of sublime quality. Playmaker Finn Russell gave glimpses of his ability to influence matches on the biggest stage while Stuart Hogg has only cemented his reputation as a world-class full-back.

John Hardie – drafted in at the last minute to provide specialist cover at seven –killed off question marks over his call-up with a series of tenacious displays while scrum-half and captain Greig Laidlaw has blossomed into one of the most inspirational skippers in the world game right now.

Now having pushed a global power like Australia to the brink, Cotter’s team simply cannot fall back to the status of international also-rans.

During this year’s humiliating Six Nations, they piled defeat on top of defeat on top of defeat. A title challenge is the least the team should aim for next time.