Scotland pay price for not having a front line goalkicker as Blair Kinghorn backed to bounce back
Kinghorn kicked two from four at Murrayfield, his second miss coming in the final 10 seconds when he pulled a 45-metre penalty wide of the left-hand post. It meant Australia held on to their 16-15 lead and Gregor Townsend's side have now lost four of their last five, but it was a match they should have won. Twice Scotland players fumbled with the tryline at their mercy and there was an agonising moment in the second half when Kinghorn floated a pass to Jamie Ritchie on the right wing which was just a fraction too high for the flanker. Townsend felt Ritchie had drifted in-field a yard too far and would have collected if he had held the line.
It was a game of fine margins and the Scots were on the wrong side of most of the big moments. The summer tour in Argentina ended in similarly agonising fashion when the hosts snatched victory with the final play of the game and the concern is that it is becoming a habit for Scotland. Townsend has already taken steps to address it by bringing in Aaron Walsh from New Zealand as a ‘mental skills coach’ and he will work with the players throughout the autumn series which continues on Saturday against Fiji. Walsh helps sportspeople “manage their thoughts under pressure” and Townsend was asked specifically if he would work with Kinghorn.
“Ultimately, it’s the player himself who has to be able to move on from that quickly,” said the Scotland coach. “We have support within our group - team-mates, coaches. And we’ve got support from people with expertise in that area. But it will be the player who decides and every player’s different. It might be that they want to take a couple of days beating themselves up about it and come back on Monday and get stuck in. It might be they want to be on the training field tomorrow doing the same kick just to make sure they’ve learned from the technical side of it. Blair’s shown throughout his career he’s someone who can bounce back from mistakes. There’s always going to be times in a game, especially when you are playing at 10, when things are not going that well but I thought he showed really good resilience throughout the 80 minutes.”
The fact that it is Emiliano Boffelli and not Kinghorn who is Edinburgh’s first-choice goalkicker means the latter’s exposure to high-pressure kicking is limited and Townsend was asked if he was tempted to bring on Ross Thompson late in the game. Thompson is Glasgow Warriors’ front-line kicker but Townsend felt it would have put undue pressure on the young stand-off.
“We back Blair,” said the coach. “We’ve seen him kick in training, we saw him kick really well in the third Test in Argentina from long range in a hostile environment. And it’s often not easy for a guy coming on to make his first kick. Blair had a feel for the conditions, he’d kicked a few already in the game and he’s the one who’s got the adrenaline. He felt he kicked it well. He maybe could have kept over it a little longer but that’s a technical thing and he’ll learn from that.”
George Horne, the replacement scrum-half, was on the field for the final 12 minutes and was another option to kick at goal given his excellent record with Glasgow this season but hindsight is, of course, a wonderful thing. Years of excellence from Chris Paterson and then Greig Laidlaw have only served to exacerbate the absence of a reliable kicker and it may be that Adam Hastings is given the job against Fiji. The exiled Finn Russell continues to deliver on that front for Racing, landing 24 points on Saturday as they defeated Brive 43-38 away in the Top 14, but Townsend remains unwilling to call up the stand-off. “Our squad is picked for the Autumn Tests and any changes will be because of injury,” he said.
Townsend acknowledged that Glen Young’s yellow card in the 56th minute was a key turning point. Scotland led 15-6 going into the final quarter, with Kinghorn playing in Ollie Smith for the opening try then scoring the second himself with some brilliantly improvised footballing skills from deep in his own half. The stand-off slotted over a penalty in the second half and converted his own try but missed the target after Smith’s early score.
There was a period of concerted Scottish pressure midway through the first half during which Kinghorn kicked penalties to the corner rather than at goal but the home side’s dominance failed to yield a try. Sione Tuipulotu squandered one opportunity when he dropped the ball and then the pack were held up over the line when a bit more patience might have brought a score. Australia stayed in touch, with Bernard Foley landing a couple of penalties. And when the fly-half converted James Slipper’s try against the 14-man Scots the Wallabies had reduced the hosts’ lead to two points. Foley, who was 100 per cent off the tee, then edged the Aussies ahead with 11 minutes remaining and it was a lead they would not relinquish.
Scotland must now regroup for the remainder of the autumn series against Fiji, New Zealand and Argentina. The squad will be bolstered by the addition of the English-based players but Townsend expects a tough game against the South Sea Islanders. “They are a very dangerous side and a very physical side,” he said. “In the last four to five years we’ve lost over in Fiji and we’ve had a good win at home. Their physicality and their rugby-playing ability makes them a dangerous team to play against.”
Scorers: Scotland: Tries: Smith, Kinghorn. Con: Kinghorn. Pen: Kinghorn.
Australia: Try: Slipper. Con: Foley. Pens: Foley 3.
Scotland: 15. Ollie Smith; 14. Darcy Graham (Damien Hoyland 75), 13. Mark Bennett, 12. Sione Tuipulotu, 11. Duhan van der Merwe; 10. Blair Kinghorn, 9. Ali Price (George Horne 68); 1. Pierre Schoeman (Jamie Bhatti 60), 2. Dave Cherry (George Turner 60), 3. Zander Fagerson (WP Nel 60), 4. Sam Skinner (Glen Young 24), 5. Grant Gilchrist, 6. Jamie Ritchie (capt), 7. Hamish Watson, 8. Matt Fagerson (Jack Dempsey 60).
Replacement not used: 22. Ross Thompson.
Australia: 15. Tom Banks (Jock Campbell 67); 14. Andrew Kellaway, 13. Len Ikitau, 12. Hunter Paisami, 11. Tom Wright; 10. Bernard Foley (Noah Lolesio 74), 9. Tate McDermott (Nic White 57); 1. James Slipper (Matt Gibbon 67), 2. Dave Porecki (Folau Fainga'a 58), 3. Allan Alaalatoa (Taniela Tupou 40), 4. Nick Frost, 5. Cadeyrn Neville (Ned Hanigan 63), 6. Jed Holloway, 7. Michael Hooper, 8. Rob Valetini (Langi Gleeson 74).
Referee: Luke Pearce (RFU)
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