Was defeat of Australia the finest win in Scotland’s history?

Byron McGuigan touches down for Scotland's first try. Picture: PA.
Byron McGuigan touches down for Scotland's first try. Picture: PA.
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There was a time not so long ago when stat-checking in the wake of a Scotland rugby international was a task so traumatising that it would require a lie down in a darkened room afterwards.

Record defeats, head-to-head losing streaks, longest runs without a 
Six Nations win, even without a try. It was often a blood-chilling business.

Late on Saturday afternoon in the BT Murrayfield media room in the aftermath of this sensational victory the stats were being thrown around and gleefully seized upon like shiny coins in a 
wedding scramble.

They have all been given a good airing in the hours that have followed – record win over Australia in points and margin, most points and tries, an extraordinary eight, scored against a tier one rugby nation.

Remarkably, it was only the second time that one of the home unions or France had put 50 points on one of the Southern Hemisphere big three after England’s soon-to-be world champions beat South Africa 53-3 at Twickenham in 2002. For seasoned followers of Scotland the idea that the national team had just scored 53 of their own against one of these nations, who have carved up all but one of every World Cup played between them, is the stuff of heady dreams.

There have been times in the recent past after encounters with the southern hemisphere big boys when less than 40 or 50 points conceded would be viewed as modest face-
saving successes.

Looking beyond the stats for the fuller picture it can surely be confidently argued that this was the greatest result in the history of the national rugby team. Some victories have held greater
tangible meaning, such as Grand Slam triumphs and iconic Calcutta Cup matches, but to hammer the third ranked team in the world in such a 
thrilling fashion is tough to top.

The fact the opposition were reduced to 14 men when Wallabies prop Sekope Kepu was dismissed for a shoulder charge to the head of Hamish Watson may have some putting an asterisk next to the scoreline, but not Wallaby coach Michael Cheika, who refused to use it as an excuse.

It has to be taken into account, seven of the eight home tries came after Kepu was sent packing, and contributed to the last ten minutes effectively becoming a shooting fish in a barrel operation. It was, though, a blatant red card and the Scots had looked on top before the incident, although the Aussies had responded to edge in front through a quickfire double from Tevita Kuridrani.

Playing against 14 men does not always lead to a procession, as witnessed by the previous weekend when New Zealand spent 20 minutes with players in the sin bin. And, of course, Scotland had faced disruption of their own when star full-back Stuart Hogg pulled out minutes before the kick-off with a hip problem.

The Scots dealt with their moment of adversity with aplomb as the man who came into the starting line-up, Sale wing Byron McGuigan, responded by bagging a man-of-the-match clinching double and Saracens’ Sean Maitland, who took Hogg’s No 15 jersey, scored a scorching try of his own.

Centre Huw Jones continued his sizzling form with a seventh try in ten Tests following a quick-tap Finn Russell penalty which epitomised the innovation and fast play which is blossoming under Townsend.

Scrum-half Ali Price, lock Jonny Gray, skipper John Barclay and hooker Stuart McInally also got on the scoresheet to the raucous acclaim of an ecstatic Murrayfield crowd. If Russell hadn’t missed a few, admittedly testing kicks, the final scoreline could have passed the 60 mark.

When it was announced that Townsend was taking over from Vern Cotter, who had proved himself to be Scotland’s best coach for decades, there were more than a few murmurings. For all the regard for the former Lions stand-off’s achievements at Glasgow there was some concern that the SRU had erred by jettisoning the Kiwi and bringing in a young coach untested at the highest level of the game. Townsend brushed off any suggestions of pressure from the start but would only be human if he felt some trepidation. Any sign of a post-Cotter wobble could have led to a bit of heat.

Six games into the Townsend reign, with home and away wins over Australia and an admirable showing against the All Blacks, it is clear that the progress of the last couple of years has not just been maintained but moved on magnificently.

The coach always seeks to deflect any personal praise to his players, who have, to a man, performed heroically in the past month. The most notable aspect of that has been the raft of injury blows which have been absorbed with a seamless show of much-appreciated depth.

You could almost name a full and entirely plausible starting XV of players, and a few bench spots to boot, from the casualty list. Not long ago that would have been a calamitous state of affairs for Scotland. Not so now.

“I realised the challenge was bigger because we didn’t know a lot about those players,” said Townsend, who has handed seven new caps during the series.

“[Props] Darryl Marfo [pictured left] and Jamie Bhatti had played at club level and we thought there are the two guys in form, they might not have the experience and both are uncapped, let’s see how they work in our environment. And we were really impressed how they worked.

“We have a lot of faith in not just the 31 players that have played in this period but the squad of 36. Most of the time injuries are disappointing for us as coaches and for the players but sometimes they’re an opportunity to see someone else and see what they would do at international level.

“There’s a few players over these three weeks we’ve changed our perceptions of where they are in the pecking order if everyone was fit. How we can change our game if we don’t have certain players in our squad or starting team, how we would have been thinking after the June tests and building up to the November Tests. And it is a credit to the players how they’ve reacted to setbacks.”