Rugby Union: Future bleak for `unacceptable' Scotland

Scotland 8 Australia 37
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There were shrieks of schadenfreude when the result from Old Trafford was announced at the rapidly-emptying Murrayfield on Saturday. They were shortlived.

The collective gasp which greeted news of South Africa's half-century of points in Paris must have echoed past the broken Bravehearts disappearing down the tunnel and right through the corridors of Caledonian rugby power.

At that moment, the Scottish Rugby Union had reason to be grateful for selling the prime-site advertising space on the right breast of the thistle jersey. They are likely to need the cash.

Just over 40,000 souls turned up to watch the boys bearing the legend "Famous Grouse" shot down by 29 unanswered second-half points. It remains to be seen how many will pay pounds 25 to return on Saturday week for what promises to be Scotland's 12th of August.

South Africa will be in town and, having put 61 points past the Wallabies in August, and now 52 past the French, a ritual slaughter seems inevitable, whatever interim damage England might manage to inflict on the rampant Springboks.

Rob Wainwright's reaction said it all. "Erm..." the injured Scottish skipper mumbled when asked if he might be fit to return to the firing line on 6 December.

Unfortunately for Scotland, Captain Wainwright will be confined to the barracks of the commentary box once again.

At half-time on Saturday he was talking animatedly about Scotland's "best chance in years of beating one of the southern hemisphere's big three". By tea-time the army doctor could hardly bring himself to contemplate another cross-equatorial challenge. "It does not look good for the Scottish boys," he said.

Indeed, the prognosis would seem to be on the extreme side of bleak. By the traditionally lofty standards of the southern hemisphere super- powers, the Wallabies who ultimately waltzed past Scotland on Saturday were second-raters.

For half-an-hour they bumbled along in schoolboy-fashion, John Eales ponderously wide with his first shot at the posts and Stephen Larkham, the eventual star of the show, fluffing his lines with a sliced kick for the corner on the Scottish 22 and a potentially costly fumble right on the Australian try-line. By no-side, though, they had eclipsed the great touring Wallaby grand-slammers of 1984.

When Eales landed his fifth successful kick, with a conversion of Allan Martin assurance (if not quite the same second-rower's sledgehammer-subtlety) five minutes into injury-time, Australia's biggest winning margin against the Scots was registered. The previous record margin, 25 points, was set by the mesmerising Mark Ella, the goose-stepping David Campese and Co in their 37-12 victory at Murrayfield 13 years ago.

The Wallabies of '97 are not remotely of the same vintage. It was their good fortune on Saturday to be playing a Scotland team down to its dregs, with a sextet of debutants on the field by the final whistle. Australia scored five tries of their own and even made the first of the afternoon for their hosts - Scott Murray, one of the new boys, taking an easy picking at the back of a close-range line-out thanks to Michael Foley's orbital

over-throw.

Larkham, second XV scrum-half with the Canberra Kookaburras two years ago, was made to look like Christian Cullen, Serge Blanco and JPR Williams rolled into one as the fledgling full-back bagged his brace of second- half tries.

First he gathered an Alan Tait chip on his own 22 and left a blue-shirted trail in his wake as he raced, kicked and dribbled up the left touchline. Then the sheep-farmer's son snaffled Andy Nicol's mis-hit clearance kick, swerved past James Craig and left the rest of the supposed home guard clutching Scotch mist.

"It just opened up for me," Larkham said of his latter score. "They all hung off a bit. A few missed tackles..."

Richie Dixon, Scotland's coach, could not afford the luxury of self-effacement. "Our defence just broke down," he said. "Australia scored four tries from our possession and we did not even make them work very hard for them. That is unacceptable at this level."

The sobering thought for Dixon, and for Scotland, is that the level will be a notch higher when the Springboks turn up at Murrayfield - four days before the official conclusion of the grouse-shooting season.

Scotland: Try Murray; Penalty Hodge. Australia: Tries Roff, Larkham 2, Gregan, Ofahengaue; Conversions Eales 3; Penalties Eales 2.

SCOTLAND: D Hodge (Watsonians); J Craig West of Scotland), A Stanger (Hawick), A Tait (Newcastle), K Logan (Wasps); G Townsend (Northampton), A Nicol (Bath, capt); D Hilton (Bath), G McKelvey (Watsonians), M Stewart (Northampton), S Campbell (Dundee HSFP), S Murray (Bedford), A Roxburgh (Kelso), E Peters (Bath), I Smith (Moseley). Replacements: S Grimes (Watsonians) for Roxburgh, h-t; G Graham (Newcastle) for M Stewart, 63; C Chalmers (Melrose) for Stanger, 75).

AUSTRALIA: S Larkham (ACT); B Tune (Queensland), T Horan (Queensland), P Howard (ACT), J Roff (ACT); E Flatley (Queensland), G Gregan (ACT); R Harry (NSW), M Foley (Queensland), A Blades (NSW), J Langford (ACT), J Eales (Queensland, capt), O Finegan (ACT), V Ofahengaue (NSW), B Robinson (ACT). Replacement: D Wilson (Queensland) for Robinson, h-t.

Referee: T Henning (South Africa).

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