Scotland v Australia history is rather odd - and few would be surprised if this latest meeting is a high-scoring affair

Scotland ran up 60 points against Tonga last week. The last time they played Australia at Murrayfield they ran up 53. Neither of these festival of tries is relevant to today’s match. That said, few would be surprised if this turns out to be a high-scoring game, for both teams like to move he ball and play expansive rugby.

Huw Jones breaks clear for Scotland during the 53-24 win over Australia in 2017.
Huw Jones breaks clear for Scotland during the 53-24 win over Australia in 2017.

The history of Scotland-Australia matches is rather odd. From 1929 to 1982 there were ten matches, of which Scotland won seven. Then came a long period of Australian supremacy: 16 games 1984-2008, with not a single Scottish victory. For much of that time Australia were very strong. In 1984, inspired by their fly-half Mark Ella, they triumphantly beat all the Five Nations countries. Then they won a couple of World Cups and were losing finalists another time. They had a host of great players – David Campese, Nick Farr-Jones, Michael Lynagh, John Eales, George Smith, to name only a few.

Things have looked up for us since. Of the seven matches since November 2009, Scotland have won four, while two of the three defeats have been by a margin of a single point, the best, if bitterly, remembered being the World Cup quarter-final in 2015 won by a last minute penalty wrongly awarded by the Referee, Craig Joubert. We tend however to forget that Australia scored five tries to our three, but missed two or three conversions. Since missed conversions, unlike missed penalties, can reasonably be added to a hypothetical score, this was a game that Australia shouldn’t have needed that final penalty to win.

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Australia come here in fine fettle, better than for several years. They have had a good late summer and early autumn and are on a five-match winning streak. They have twice beaten South Africa, playing more impressively than Warren Gatland’s stodgy Lions did. In contrast the full Scotland side hasn’t played since March when they won in Paris, a great victory, but not relevant to present form. So, on paper, Australia should start favourites, even at Murrayfield, unless their run of hard games has taken a toll.

On the other hand two of the players instrumental in this run of victories, Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi, have decided that their immediate loyalty is due to their clubs in Japan rather than to Australia. This is tough on their coach, Dave Rennie (late of Glasgow Warriors) who had recalled, and put his trust in, the brilliant but sometimes wayward Cooper, missing from the national team for some time. It’s not that there aren’t good replacements – James O’Connor has long been a very talented player even if he has never quite touched the heights first forecast for him when he was a teenager. But it does mean that the pattern that has been so successful in recent weeks has been broken.

As for Scotland, Gregor Townsend’s problem at present is one which several previous Scotland coaches can eye with envy. From number 1 to 15 the question has been “who to leave out” rather than “who the hell can we put in”. To put it another way, Gregor has more players of proven Test match quality than has been usual. To start with he has eight Lions of this summer’s vintage, though, sadly, Rory Sutherland is absent, injured. Other injured players – notably the locks Jonny Gray and Scott Cummings – leave gaps to be filled. But such is the intensity of the modern game, it is very rare for any coach not to find himself missing one of two or even three stars. One might add Cameron Redpath to the short list of absentees; he has been out of action since making an impressive debut at Twickenham in last season’s Calcutta Cup. His absence is particularly regrettable because there is less cover at 12 – inside centre – than in most positions on the field.

The Sunday forecast for Edinburgh looks genial: sun, a breeze and no more than a ten per cent chance of a shower. Let’s hope they have got it right, because here we have two teams which like to play attacking rugby with a good passing game, and when they kick, do so with purpose, rather than because they can’t think of anything else to do and are anyway happier without the ball.

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