The 2015 Rugby World Cup quarter-final against Australia last year was one of the most emotionally-charged games of rugby Scotland have been involved in since the Grand Slam of 1990.
The events which unfolded at Twickenham that mid-October Sunday afternoon have loomed large over the build-up to this Saturday’s reunion of the two nations at BT Murrayfield. However, as the match approaches it is time to park the emotional baggage and analyse the cold, hard reality if Scotland are to register what would only be a third win over the men in gold and green over the course of the past 21 meetings.
Scotland were, of course, excellent and unlucky in that pulsating quarter-final, coming within a whisker of eliminating the eventual runners-up, which has raised belief that vengeance can be theirs in front of a record home crowd for the fixture.
However, captain Greig Laidlaw was quick to point out that the Aussies outscored them 5-3 on the trycount that day and, despite a painful series of losses to New Zealand and England this year, the Wallabies showed how dangerous they can be last weekend with a dominant 32-8 dismantling of Wales in Cardiff.
Australia racked up a 16-game winning record over the Scots from 1982 to 2009 and, after two successive narrow defeats, have since won the last and will be confident of making it three in a row and keeping their “Grand Slam” ambitions on track.
Bernard Foley may have struck that winning penalty after referee Craig Joubert’s controversial late call but earlier struggles with the boot had kept Scotland in a game that they may otherwise have been shut out of.
“We can’t concede five tries again or we’ll make it extremely difficult for ourselves to win games of rugby,” stressed Laidlaw. “It’s always a starting point, setpiece and defence, you get those things right then you’re going to be in games of rugby.
“[The World Cup quarter-final] is a motivation, of course it is. But, when we take the emotion away from the game, it was one we could have won.
“So we can use that as a positive. That can help us, the fact that we were in the game for 80 minutes. We understand that, defensively, we need to be better. We gave up five tries on the day so Australia will be thinking they can cause us problems.
“We need to be really tight in our defence, really tight in our driving maul, our forward play, so we’re not giving away cheap points.”
Laidlaw was suitably impressed with Michael Cheika’s men at the weekend and knows Scotland cannot afford to gently ease themselves in.
“Australia are up at speed and coming off the back of the Rugby Championship and then another game over here to prepare for us against the Welsh.
“I spoke to [Wales No 8] Ross Moriarty, a Gloucester colleague of mine, and got his feelings on the game. We will be ready, the way Vern [Cotter] and the coaches have pushed this today and in the last week and a half is to get rid of that rustiness and make sure we’re in the best possible place when we take the field on Saturday.
“We need to be strong in defence and setpiece needs to be rock solid to give us a platform to launch into the game. If we do that we feel we’ll look back to the last time we played Australia in the World Cup, we feel as if we have a good game plan and organisation that can cause them a lot of problems.”
While that five-try display in the Welsh capital has focused defensive minds, Laidlaw believes Scotland can take the game to Australia again and cause them a few surprises.
“You are always trying to get that upper hand, that slight edge here or there – and we think we’ve got a couple of plays that can cause them problems,” said the scrum-half.
Victories over the big southern hemisphere nations don’t come around often and the captain added: “It would give us huge confidence to win but we’ll take one game at a time. We’re gaining more confidence as a squad and settling down into positions in the team. The spine of the team has been consistent of late which is invaluable, Finn [Russell] at 10, [Stuart] Hoggy at 15, the Gray brothers [locks Jonny and Richie,] it’s been a stronghold of the team now for a while and that consistency goes a long way for a playing group.”
Laidlaw revealed that the squad will be keeping a keen eye on events from Wembley on the eve of the Murrayfield match as Scotland face England in a football World Cup qualifier. The skipper said inspiration had also been taken from Andy Murray’s ascent to the top of the tennis world rankings and Ireland’s stunning upset win over the All Blacks in Chicago.
“It’s always brilliant when you face the Auld Enemy in rugby – and I’m sure the football boys feel exactly the same,” said Laidlaw.
“I’m sure a few of us will gather around to cheer them on and wish the football boys all the best.
“Of course, you can take inspiration from Scottish success. Look at Andy Murray. It’s fantastic for a Scotsman to be the best tennis player in the world. That’s brilliant.
“Even in rugby, look at what Ireland did last weekend, a fantastic performance. If you get it right on the day, anybody can beat anybody – that’s the way international rugby is going now, because it’s so tight now.”