Last Minute Points Cause Scottish Heartbreak

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As the only Northern Hemisphere side left in the competition, Scotland had to out-skill and out-pace the Australian giants, who were noticeably missing Israel Folau and David Pocock. Earlier this week Scotland won an appeal for the over-ruling of the suspensions of Ross Ford and Jonny Gray, bolstering their side for this crucial clash. If there was ever a time for the underdogs to prove their worth and make their first semi final in 24 years, it was today.

Finn Russell got the game under way, but it was clear that Scotland needed to brush up on their discipline, giving two advantages away in the first couple of minutes. Australia piled on the pressure and tested their opponents’ defence as they came close to the try line, but unfortunately batted the ball forward a metre short. Nine minutes in and Australia had their first five-pointer – a slip through defenders and superb sprint over the line by Adam Ashley-Cooper, who left Tommy Seymour in his dust. Off-form Bernard Foley sent the conversion wide, leaving the score at 5-0.

Scotland replied in fine style, running the ball up the field with slick passes into the Wallabies’ 22. A penalty awarded to Scotland at the ruck gave Greig Laidlaw the chance to gain three points for the men in blue, and as the score stood at 5-3, they began to increase the intensity on Australia as they used phase after phase to gain vital metres. Australia looked pushed as they tried to keep up with the Gray brothers’ speed at the breakdown. Finally their efforts paid out as centre Peter Horne thundered over for Scotland’s first try of the night. Laidlaw converted with precision taking the score to 5-10.

Australia began to make continued mistakes as referee Craig Joubert awarded Scotland another penalty. It was all smiles for Laidlaw as he added a further three points to the scoreboard, and at 5-13 skipper Moore – who was awarded his 100th cap in this game – fired the Wallabies up to produce a counter-attack on the leaders. With this in mind, the strength of the forwards earned them possession and, as Will Genia threw the pass wide to Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell was waiting on the left wing to whisk through the open space ahead of the whitewash and go over for try number two. Foley missed another conversion, leaving the score line at 10-13. Another successful kick for Laidlaw took the score to 10-16, but when Australia chose to go for the corner instead of the posts for a penalty, their forwards dominated. Brute force pushed the Wallabies over, and under a pile of bodies the ball was grounded by Hooper for their third. Foley failed to earn a further two points (again) so as the half time whistle blew, the score read 15-16 to the Scots. A close match that Michael Chieka, without admission, perhaps wasn’t expecting.

The Wallabies came out fighting for the second half, and when Scotland’s Sean Maitland was sent to the bin for a deliberate knock-on (something that was only originally picked up by TMO Ben Skeen) Australia capitalised on the one man advantage. Mitchell went over for his second try of the night and Foley managed to finally get the ball between the posts, quickly turning the score around to 22-16. A discipline error for the Wallabies at the scrum, however, allowed Laidlaw’s reliable boot to put over a further three points and close the gap to 22-19.
Australia ran the ball well across the pitch as they faced up to Scotland’s towering defence, but a swift pass from the scrum allowed them to race over the line. Nevertheless, referee Joubert confided in the TMO for a potential knock-on further back in play and, true to his initial thoughts, the try was not given. Minutes later an offside blue shirt gave Chieka’s men a penalty, and Foley secured the three points to make it 25-19. With Scotland back up to fifteen men, they added power in their counter-attack as grey skies blew over Twickenham. Finn Russell then made a great break through the Wallabies defence and, when brought down ten metres out, tossed the ball to Seymour who continued the glistening pace to score. Laidlaw missed his first conversion of the night, but Scotland had scraped it back to a one point deficit, 25-24.

The men in green and gold extended their lead with a try by Tevita Kuridrani, who placed the ball down amidst a rolling wave of attack on the try-line. Conversion successful for Foley, the score ticked over to 32-24. Vern Cotter’s side, still hungry to claw back points and progress through to the semi finals, enjoyed a penalty kick by Laidlaw for a further three points. At 32-27 with ten minutes left, both sides were desperate for more action as the rain poured down onto them. An electric interception run from Mark Bennett under the posts sent the crowd into a frenzy, and an easy conversion for Laidlaw took it to 32-34 with four minutes left. A surcharge of dynamics tore through Twickenham in the final minutes, with two points separating the underdogs from glory. A controversial penalty for Australia gave them three more points and at 35-34, Australia gained possession and kicked out.

This was an absolutely astonishing game of rugby where Scotland earned the respect from spectators across the world and Australia showed their class with their backs against the wall. They go on to play Argentina next Sunday in the second semi-final of the weekend. Vern Cotter’s men bow out of the competition with dignity and character as the last standing Northern Hemisphere team. Their next outing as a squad will be in the Six Nations, where they hope to reproduce, and build on, some of the magic from tonight.

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