At first it seem liked Newcastle, 2012, all over again. Minus the sideways rain of course, but even that managed to pop up as well with eight minutes left.
In that terrible evening at Hunter Stadium three years ago Scotland scratched and crawled their way to a famous victory over Australia. They battled their way to a win in freezing conditions with pure willpower and committed defence.
Sunday afternoon in London and they almost did it again. OK, the Wallabies weren’t as bad as they were on that winter evening in Newcastle – a calamitous performance under Robbie Deans – but they again made some crucial errors.
Australia scored five tries but poor goal-kicking, a struggling scrum and some key errors kept fighting Scotland in the game.
A charge down from Stuart Hogg in the second half and the resulting try gave them hope. And then an intercept, from a terrible James Slipper pass, gave them a precious two-point lead. Less props in at second receiver please Michael Cheika.
In one way it was like a boxing match. The Wallabies keep knocking Scotland down, waiting for a knockout, but the Scots kept getting back off the canvas. They kept throwing punches, the rounds rolled on and they refused to lie down. And in boxing’s best tradition, it ended with a controversial finish.
With less than two minutes left and from the whistle of Craig Joubert, for a contentious penalty that will go into World Cup folklore, Bernard Foley’s kick saved Australia’s bacon. Cue massive relief for the green and gold.
On closer inspection of the replay, a few hours after the game, I don’t think the penalty shouldn’t have been given. In what was the tighest of tight calls, Nick Phipps appeared to just get a touch on the ball. The rules stipulate that the TMO couldn’t make a judgement, strange though as the TMO seems to be used everywhere else.
And with that, Scotland were out. Heart-breaking for them. Joubert’s decision to bolt from the field on full-time only served to heighten the drama and the Scots’ feeling of injustice. It certainly wasn’t the South African’s finest honour and he won’t be holidaying in Edinburgh anytime soon.
The Wallabies are through to their sixth semi-final appearance in eight World Cups, by the skin of their teeth, where they will meet Argentina. On this performance you have to like the Pumas’ chances.
Without David Pocock and Israel Folau, Australia looked fragile at times, out-muscled in the breakdown and over-powered in the scrum. They forced offloads, hot-potating the ball and look rattled under immense Scottish pressure.
There was little of the calm play that we saw against England and Wales. When they did get it together they were devastating. You don’t score five tries in a fluke. But perhaps this was the wake-up call the Wallabies needed. While the All Blacks crusied past France, Australia was shocked, beaten up and bashed by Scotland.
Perhaps the men in green and gold thought it would be an easy match against the Scots, seemingly the weakest team left in the final eight. Cheika and his players steadfastly refuted that notion in the press conferences after the game.
But Scotland dispelled any notions of being easybeats with a committed and enterprising display. This was not the same team that struggled in this year’s Six Nations. This is a side with real potential.
They ran the ball often, mixed up their play and hit hard in defence. Their only folly at times was kicking the ball away needlessly on occasion, often poor box-kicks which gave Australia excellent possession and Kurtley Beale covered,
Still, with an ounce of luck, it could be Scotland preparing to meet Argentina next weekend. The yellow card to Sean Maitland was harsh and the final penalty decision a disaster.
The Wallabies rode their luck and somehow have emerged out the other side, still alive in this tournament.
The media and many fans have been talking up Australia’s chances after topping the Group of Death and crushing England. But that talk will largely evaporate now. The Wallabies were like a cat with nine lives, and you would think two have been used up in matches against Wales and now Scotland.
Do they have another life left as they recover and regroup to see off the Pumas in a week’s time? The Wallabies won’t be able to rely on the rugby gods, or the referee’s whistle, the next time round.
It’s not Irish eyes smiling today but Australian eyes as the World Cup continues.
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