RUGBY UNION: Australia's forward march

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The Independent Online
Captain Rob Wainwright of the Royal Army Medical Corps may have cut quite a dash in a top-of-the-range waterproof coat and a pair of regulation- issue tartan trousers that bordered on the outrageous, but until Scotland's skipper in absentia is in a position to consign his civvies to the wardrobe and return to the uniform of battle - blue shirt, white shorts, rugby boots - his once-passionate fellow forwards may well continue to resemble a powder puff unit in abject retreat.

Australia's 29-19 victory at Murrayfield was as bloodless a coup as it is possible to stage on enemy territory. Their mountainous pack weighed in at a stone and a half heavier per man and, infinitely more cohesive in thought and deed, they dominated their opponents so effortlessly that the Scots looked suspiciously under-motivated as well as overmatched.

Wainwright may be nursing groin and Achilles injuries at the moment but it is not unreasonable to suggest that even on one leg he would have tripled the amount of clout his companions brought to the proceedings before the subdued 51,000 Edinburgh audience.

Which is not to say that Gregor Townsend let the side down on his first big occasion as Wainwright's successor. If the game itself was played out in unsatisfying monochrome, there was an extraordinary amount to admire in Townsend's creative performance in midfield, embellished as it was with pace, variety and sleight of hand. In conjuring up tries for both his wings and masterminding at least as many near misses, the Northampton maestro was the most accomplished back on view - a real loaves and fishes effort given the paucity of the supplies at his disposal.

Yet in coaxing the best from the runners around him - Rowen Shepherd's precise angles of support from full-back ensured the artistry did not go entirely unappreciated - Townsend unwittingly shed direct light on the difficulties of galvanising a struggling pack from the remote outpost of outside-centre.

Wainwright, who is still not sure whether he can expect to resume business in five weeks or three months, was able to provide the necessary inspiration last season because he was up there amid the mud and bullets with the rest of the infantry, soaking up his fair share of punishment and then going back for more. Without him, the Scottish eight looked emasculated on Saturday.

Richie Dixon, the Scottish coach, pointed to his forward's difficulties at scrum and line-out as the root cause of defeat, and it was certainly true that John Eales, the Wallaby captain, and a lively front row, in which Richard Harry confirmed his potential as a world-class prop in the making, asked far too many awkward questions of their hosts. That much was predictable, though; what few foresaw was the insipid and ultimately futile effort in the loose, where Ian Smith tried to construct a one-man dam in the face of a tidal wave.

It was not as if the Wallabies, clearly suffering from nerves born of inexperience and unfamiliarity, were running hot. Sam Payne's untidy display at scrum-half undermined any number of promising raids, Pat Howard's leg injury prevented him from building on some flashes of early brilliance, and with Tim Horan struggling to translate his midfield dynamism to the backwaters of the right wing, there was little of the Michael Lynagh in their back-line performance and even less of the Mark Ella.

Damningly enough, the Australians found Patrick Thomas, the French referee, more difficult to fathom than anything the Scots brought to the contest. Greg Smith, a dry and wickedly outspoken humourist in the grand tradition of more than one of his predecessors as Wallaby coach, let rip on the subject afterwards: "It's difficult to present a marketable product if the person in control keeps stopping it. There was far too much whistle; these guys have got to take some responsibility but it doesn't seem to worry them. Let's hope it worries the people who assess them."

Smith was being only half-serious - "I'm always like this after a victory so perhaps I need some counselling," - but while he has a semblance of a point, the most laughable decision of the lot did not hang on the referee's interpretation of the abstruse laws surrounding quick lineouts, the Wallaby's main bone of contention, but concerned the last-minute try awarded to Tony Stanger. The Hawick wing was so far in touch when he attempted to ground the ball at the right corner that any of the watching stewards would have been justified in charging him pounds 27 for a stand seat. Thankfully for Thomas and his equally short-sighted touch judge, the game had been dead for some time.

There was nothing remotely questionable about the Scot's opening try, which fell to Kenny Logan via Townsend's high-quality floated pass. "They scored a lot of points against the All Blacks during the summer and now we can see why," Smith said. "They show a great deal of initiative with the ball and their catch-pass skills hold up well under pressure. If they could overcome their problems in the line-out they would be difficult to handle."

"If" is a big word, however. The Scots were almost resigned to defeat as early as the 12th minute when Warwick Waugh, 19 stone of mean-eyed aggression, managed to rumble off the edge of a driving maul and land with a resounding thump over the Scottish line. Matt Burke's goal-kicking and Daniel Herbert's classically simple two-on-one try 12 minutes from time completed a victory far more comfortable than the final, distorted scoreline suggested.

The Wallaby back division will require a tweak here and there before the internationals in Dublin and Cardiff over the next three weeks - David Campese, keen to emphasise that his tour selection was based on form rather than sentiment, is chomping at the bit - but when you are armed with a pack that makes Sydney Opera House look like a rabbit hutch, adjustments to your three-quarter line are among life's little luxuries.

Scotland Tries Logan, Stanger; Penalties Shepherd 3. Australia Tries Waugh, Herbert; Conversions Burke 2; Penalties Burke 5.

SCOTLAND: R Shepherd; A Stanger, G Townsend (capt), R Eriksson, K Logan; C Chalmers, G Armstrong (B Redpath, 76); D Hilton, K McKenzie, B Stewart, D Cronin, D Weir, M Wallace, E Peters, I Smith.

AUSTRALIA: M Burke; T Horan, D Herbert, P Howard, J Roff; D Knox, S Payne; R Harry, M Foley, A Blades, W Waugh, J Eales (capt), O Finnegan (B Robinson, 64), D Manu, D Wilson.

Referee: P Thomas (France).