Aidan Smith: Stand-in Byron McGuigan seizes Scotland chance

Australia's Michael Hooper can't stop Byron McGuigan touching down one of Scotland's eight tries. Picture: Neil Hanna
Australia's Michael Hooper can't stop Byron McGuigan touching down one of Scotland's eight tries. Picture: Neil Hanna
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Shock of shocks, letdown of letdowns. Stuart Hogg, last week’s man of the match and a surefire contender for First Minister had he managed to down the mighty All Blacks, was out.

Injuries in the warm-up are always freakish but aren’t they also completely unnecessary? So valuable is Hoggy to the Scotland cause that it’s a surprise they don’t protect him at all costs between his star turns, keep him away from sharp implements and have someone cut up his food.

The full-back’s photo was flashed up on the big screen as the line-up was announced, almost as if Murrayfield couldn’t quite bring itself to admit he wasn’t playing.

His no-show let in Byron McGuigan, a winger hailing from Walvis Bay, Namibia who’d debuted from the bench last week. Call it Wemyss Bay because what an entry he made yesterday. Some early fleet-footedness showed high promise and then he broke down the middle, ball at his feet, and wasn’t flustered by an unkind bounce, pouncing for a try. It was a score Wikipedia recorded instantly, presumably via his mum.

He demonstrated his football skills again when set up by Sean Maitland who was filling in at 15, and initially the Sale Sharks man seemed to have touched down for a second try but the TMO judged that an Australian hand had got there first. Still, the home XV were flying. Stuart who?

The last thing Scotland needed yesterday was another so-near-but-yet-so-far story – and especially not one involving the co-stars and beneficiaries of the greatest close-but-no-cigar blockbuster of all time.

It was Australia and not the Scots who won that World Cup quarter-final in 2015 thanks to referee Craig Joubert’s diabolical miss-call – though there were some in the sellout crowd still replaying in their heads Hogg’s thwarted surge for glory from the week before, and wondering whether it was the bigger tragedy.

But if Scotland were seeking to banish the memory of that heroic missed opportunity against New Zealand, they were facing a team with possibly more reason to deliver a soothing victory. That’s what record thumpings by England do to the Wallabies.

Nothing went for them last week, not refereeing decisions or the bounce of the ball, but they had their coach Michael Cheika given the all-clear to lead them after a Twickenham outburst possibly containing stronger words than “Strewth!” and “Cowabunga!” escaped sanction.

There were also leaders on the park in bullet-headed prop Stephen Moore, making his final appearance in a yellow shirt, and class act Bernard Foley at stand-off who, not to be outdone by McGuigan’s soccer prowess, deftly prodded two clever kicks in as many minutes and Tevita Kuridrani turned them into tries.

Australia were sharp. They didn’t look like a team which had just been chased by the “parkie”, their preferred training pitch in Edinburgh having been denied them because of a previous booking for a university match. Or maybe the groundsman pushing them the extra mile was reaping reward.

But then came a big moment – a big shoulder into the face of Hamish Watson from Sekope Kepu and the prop was red-carded. Moore’s retirement party just got harder, with Ali Price restoring Scotland’s lead right on half-time.

You wonder what the combustible Cheika said to his men at the break and especially to Kepu, his assault being not in the least bit vague. Whatever it was the Aussies went straight back out and scored. Were they about to mimic the All Blacks against the Lions with a classic demonstration of how to play for most of a match with 14 and never at any stage look disadvantaged?

Not really. They sent on schoolboy sensation Taniela Tupou, nicknamed Thor, who witnessed Maitland romp up the left for Scotland’s third try. Tears fell like rain for the young god of thunder when he found out he’d made the matchday squad – but he must have been blubbing a lake as the Dark Blues added five more touchdowns before the end.

Scotland were throwing the ball about with great abandon and the crowd were loving it but when Moore bowed out of the game and rugby on the hour-mark they were generous in their send-off for the great gnarled warrior.

Jonny Gray ambled to his five points with ease and then Huw Jones, set up by the ever-inventive Finn Russell, was rather more explosive for his seventh try for the Scots in 11 matches.

McGuigan’s second of this game probably clinched his man-of-the-match award but he will have faced keen competition for the prize from captain John Barclay, who won the breakdown battle against Michael Hooper and then weighed in with the penultimate try for the home side.

The crowd roared for Barclay’s boys to hit the 50-point mark and when Kurtley Beale was yellow-carded, further handicapping their bedraggled opponents, Stuart McInally did the needful.