Australia kicked off their World Rugby Under-20 Championship campaign at Manchester in the worst possible manner, being upset by Scotland 15-10.
Centre Campbell Magnay was sent off in the 44th minute after being yellow-carded in each half for spear tackles, and the Aussies fell behind after taking a 7-3 halftime lead. The first was fair, but the second was questionable.
In many ways it was a similar game to the one Scotland lost to the Wallabies in last year’s World Cup quarter-finals – the Aussie backs were dangerous, cutting the Scottish defence apart at times, but unable to finish moves off and deliver a telling blow.
It was another spirited Scottish performance, although this time in the unlikely Lancashire sun and not the rain-sodden turf of Twickenham.
Scotland forced mistakes and stole breakdown ball, turning the green and gold over at the scrum, and would not back down.
Every time Australia looked like scoring, Scotland would steal the ball at the ruck and harry the Antipodeans into an error. With Italy and England to come, this was a learning curve for the Aussies.
Magnay’s red card opened the game up for the men in tartan. Scottish prop Zander Fagerson burrowed over for a try soon after and they were in front 8-7, their first lead.
A man down, the Aussies looked sunk, but slowly started to maintain possession and in the 55th minute their pressure paid off as Mack Mason nailed a penalty goal and they had a slender 10-8 lead.
Scotland kept probing though, and swung the ball wide to find the overlap. Australian coach Adrian Thompson went to his bench and wrecking ball Robert Leota came on, making an immediate impact.
It was end-to-end stuff, with offloads aplenty and the pace of the game quickening significantly – neither side would die wondering as gameplans went out the window. The momentum switched from team to team, often at the whistle of referee Thomas Charabas.
An innocuous kick from Australia’s fly-half Mason was returned with interest by Scotland’s Darcy Graham, as the lighting quick winger beat Mason’s chase and danced around some lazy forwards to score a brilliant try, handing the Bravehearts a five-point buffer with 15 minutes on the clock.
Australia mounted a late charge but knock-ons, and some determined Scottish tackling kept them at bay.
Australia looked to have bagged a match-winning try in the 75th minute, when winger Simon Kennewell forced his way over in the right corner, he connected with the sideline with the slightest of touches and it was chalked off by the TMO.
Australia only have themselves to blame. They had the opportunities to win the game but simple mistakes let them down. To go as close as they did for so long with 14 men was brave, but credit goes to Scotland for their own gutsy and committed performance.
The Aussie Under-20s will need to win their remaining two games – a huge ask against England in England in their third pool fixture – to have any hope of progressing further in this tournament.
Australia have struggled in this junior competition since it launched in 2008. Their best finish was reaching a final in 2010 and last year a fifth-placed finish. Hopes were higher in 2016 after a restructure of the national pathways and a recent win over the Baby Blacks, plus the introduction of the local Super Under-20s competition.
Those hopes remain in limbo after a sobering afternoon in Manchester.
Follow John Davidson on Twitter @johnnyddavidson