I was hugely proud of Scotland’s performance. They were magnificent. They did not lose this game. They came second with pride and heads held high but for all their endeavour it still bloody hurts! I mentioned in my column on Saturday that Scotland had to stay in the game for a chance to win and the team did this did with bucket loads. But oh, what cruel luck and heartbreak. I was gutted on the final whistle. Scotland were in touching distance of a semi-final but Australia were ruthless throughout their error strewn display.
They scored five tries to Scotland’s three and that in itself tells the story of their win. Foley who couldn’t kick for toffee in the first half nailed every kick in the second half including the killer penalty with less than a minute left on the clock. Whilst big hearts can also win games small margins and errors have a habit of kicking Scotland where it hurts most.
The ricochet ball that was adjudged to have come off Josh Strauss actually came off Nick Phipps the replacement Australian scrum half. Craig Joubert instantly penalised Jon Welsh whose automatic instinct saw him latch onto ball but television replays showed clearly it had come from Phipps.
It was cruel on Scotland, devilishly cruel and the hurt will last a very long time. Many viewers will have wondered why the television match official did not intervene but under the complex laws of rugby union he can only intervene on foul play and infringements in the act of scoring. However Joubert was wrong.
If that wasn’t bad enough luck it was the throw in, in the first place that did not meet its target and yet Scotland had done everything to win this compelling game. The collective effort was clear to see and each player took on their own responsibility to carry ball to the Australians. Scotland have put pride back in the Scotland jersey and for me they have to utilise this performance and immediately set the target to win the 6 Nations next year. More importantly the team have inspired the future of Scottish Rugby and as supporters it is time we really got behind this lot.
The front row were magnificent and the pack played with a self-belief in everything they did. Alasdair Dickenson and Willem Nel outshone their fancied opposition but undoubtedly the inclusion of Ross Ford and Jonny Gray acted as a catalyst and the others in the pack followed. Their inclusion galvanised the pack but you must also applaud the acceptance of both Fraser Brown and Tim Swinson to step down from the starting line up to the bench and for Kevin Bryce and Alasdair Strokosh to sit out this game. That decision must have been tough on those players but the unity shown in this squad is at the heart of their team-ship.
Australia missed David Pocock but Cotter’s decision to play Blair Cowan at No8, alongside John Hardie was also a masterstroke. Cowan in particular was so disruptive at the breakdown and his impact across the game was impressive as was that of David Denton. His focus and concentration were spot yesterday and this is the type of performance that we need to see everytime he takes the pitch in club and national colours.
In the backs Greig Laidlaw kept Scotland in the game with his accurate kicking and wonderful leadership. He was the fulcrum of the display. Laidlaw has shown brilliant leadership through this tournament and it was gut wrenching to listen to his post-match disbelief that Scotland had lost that game. Outside him, Finn Russell changed his game plan time and time again; varying his kicking to release pressure and attacking the gain line. His link play with Peter Horne was instinctive and Horne’s awareness to score Scotland’s first try was all about what his forwards had given him; the platform from which to attack.
Russell continued to mix his game in the second half and it was his charge down that created Tommy Seymour’s electrifying try but if you thought that the noise in the stadium was loud it was nothing to compared to the reception that greeted Mark Bennet’s try. He intercepted ball from James Slipper who rather bizarrely had ended up in the fly half position. Slipper’s uncertainty and delayed pass came from an excellent Scottish press defence that forced the error and in that moment that game was Scotland’s.
It’s is really hard to criticise Scotland but they did not deal with the kick off well. I was so caught up in the emotion that when Finn Russell caught the ball from the kick-off I had called for him to mark the ball during my television commentary. Quite clearly you can’t do that from the kick off but Russell also knew this.
However it was his pass to Hogg that had Scotland in all sorts of bother and having conceded territory with a few minutes until the final whistle the horror story unfolded. Joubert’s decision still hurts – a scrum should have been awarded but a penalty was given and that small margin sent Scotland out of the competition.
This team have given us back our pride and they have been part of a wonderful story. We tend to measure success in wins and the history books will record that win to Australia but anyone who was there and watched on television will know that Scotland were moments away from glory.