The Wallabies escaped Murrayfield by the skin of their teeth as the hosts’ flyhalf Blair Kinghorn missed a penalty kick to win in the last minute and presented the Australians with a 16-15 victory.
Replacement Taniela Tupou, who had been impressive after replacing Allan Alaalatoa at halftime, conceded a needless penalty in perfect shooting range just to the left of the posts with 79 minutes gone.
Kinghorn looked nervous as he stepped up and, as he had with his first attempt of the game, shanked it wide.
Scotland scored two tries to one from James Slipper but Australia beat them for the first time in six attempts.
“Sometimes in spite of themselves, their bravery has got them there. Somehow!” said Morgan Turinui on Stan Sport.
“It’s a good win,” said Andrew Mehrtens. “Not a great performance but it’s a great one to come through like that with a bit of character.
“When the Wallabies came off they were embracing, high fiving and jubilant like it it’d been a World Cup playoff match. They were under no illusions they were looking down the barrel.”
It must have been excruciating for coach Dave Rennie to watch Kinghorn step up for his late attempt but he felt massive relief.
For a moment he thought the kick had gone through.
“There was a hell of a lot of noise in the crowd and I thought it was over,” Rennie said. “There was either a lot of Aussies or a lot of drunk Scotsmen in the stands.
“We managed to hang on. We got ourselves into a little bit of a hole after half time but we showed lot of character and fought hard for each other.
“We’ve worked really hard. It’s pleasing to get the tour off with a win but we’ve got a lot more in us. We have to be a lot more clinical when we’re down their end.”
Rennie, skipper Slipper and every other Wallaby who has uttered a word in the lead up to the game spoke about discipline and the need to reduce penalty counts and poor discipline but once again the deeds failed to match their intent.
Referee Luke Pearce penalised the Australians 15 times – one more than their Rugby Championship average – and the Scots 14.
While it was hard to pick major fault in his performance against the Australians, Pearce made a big decision in the second half with the Scots up 15-6, ending replacement prop Glen Young to the sin bin for a shocking clean out on Tate McDermott.
Pearce and the TMO decided, after a long discussion, that the challenge was mitigated by Young making contact with his bicep rather than his shoulder,
“He’s kidding. That is a red card,” fumed Morgan Turinui in the Stan Sport commentary.
“Bicep? who cares about bicep. He’s nearly taken Tate McDermott’s head off in a vulnerable position and he’s come from 30 metres away. He cannot come recklessly and dangerously into a ruck and take out a vulnerable player. How they talked themselves out of that I’ll never know.
“I guarantee he’s going to get six weeks suspension minimum [on review]. Yes, it might get down to three or four for good behavior, but he’ll get suspended.”
Rennie felt the yellow card was the right call.
But it wasn’t just the penalties that spoke to a lack of discipline in Rennie’s ranks. The team had drawn accusations of arrogance in the wake of the Melbourne time wasting debacle, and there were more moments that Rennie must leap on here.
When former skipper Michael Hooper had some words to the ref in the first half an exasperated Pearce said to Slipper, “tell you what mate, there’s a helluva lot of captains here.”
In the second half Hunter Paisami was marched 10 metres for back chat, a moment that gave Scotland threatening field position they couldn’t make the most of, and Pearce took exception with Rob Valetini and Andrew Kellaway for back chat.
The game, the first of five for Australia on this tour, was off to a frantic start and McDermott burst clear into open space to create an early chance.
But on seven minutes the Australians were within touching distance of the Scotland posts when a second attacking penalty concession stunted their charge.
A third penalty conceded on 10 minutes, from a scrum, gave Scotland the impetus to open the scoring and it was a magic double step run from Ollie Smith that exposed the Australians’ ragged defensive line, the fullback dancing past desperate lunges from McDermott and Tom Banks.
A Bernard Foley penalty cut the gap to two points but Scotland should have crossed for a second try only for centre Sione Tuipulotu to bomb an almost certain try wide on the right, screaming with frustration at himself as the ball bobbled to ground.
Australia were on top for the final 12 minutes of the half and passed up a couple of opportunities to take a shot at goal before they finally did in the last minute, for a 6-5 halftime lead.
“The Wallabies will be disappointed – across the board weight of possession, weight of opportunity,” said Justin Harrison at the break.
“The Wallabies were creating all of the play and Scotland have taken the opportunity they’ve had.”
Hooper, on his 31st birthday and back for the first time since leaving the tur in Argentina and missing the past six Tests, had an impressive first half.
“He’s on the ball and around the ball so much,” said Harrison. “His action points are stat generators. Every time he’d doing something. He’s working hard to clean up and give the ball back to the Wallabies in a better position than when he got it.
“He’s such an important link player and a lot of the Wallabies’ momentum relies on him.”
Scotland made a blinding start to the second half, and again it stemmed from Australia’s poor discipline, this time in execution.
After a Wallabies scrum feed the Australians got their passing messed up. Foley rushed a ball to Paisami and it fell to ground.
Kinghorn seized on the chance, kicking forward twice and his long legged gallop beat Kellaway to the ball and he fell across for the try.
With Young off the field for his yellow card, the Australians took advantage on 61 minutes with some good lead up passing from Cadeyrn Neville and Nick Frost setting up Slipper for a third try in his long Test career.
Foley kicked the conversion then added a penalty goal. In the end his flawless four kicks from four edged Scotland with Kinghorn wasteful.
Slipper said the highlight was “probably just the outcome. We’ve had a season where we’ve lost a fair few games in the last 10 minutes and it was nice to actually come out on the right side of the scoreboard tonight.
“So that’s probably the most pleasing thing but [also] the character shown by the boys just to hang in there and then keep creating opportunities and we took enough.”
The victory was Rennie’s 12th in charge of the Wallabies with 15 losses and three draws. It can’t be overstated just how crucial Kinghorn’s miss might be for Rennie’s hold on his job going forward.
Next up the Wallabies face a French examination in paris next weekend.
“It’s hard to get a gauge on their Japanese tour so we’re focused on the Six Nations where they were very impressive,” said Rennie.
“We know they’re going to kick a lot. They play zero rugby down their end of the field, but it does create opportunities. So you’re going to have to look after the ball well. We want to play against them. They prefer to play without the ball and are very similar to South Africa. So a similar mindset, playing them.”