Gregan score hides true price of Wallabies win

Scotland 17 Australia 31
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The Independent Online

On the scoreboard in Scotland's national football stadium, Australia ultimately managed to avoid any serious damage. Thanks to a late score by their captain and a generous refereeing call which gifted them their opening try, the World Cup runners-up of 12 months ago maintained a winning run against the Scots that stretches back to 1982. Eddie Jones and his Wallabies, however, did not escape Hampden without significant wounds.

On the scoreboard in Scotland's national football stadium, Australia ultimately managed to avoid any serious damage. Thanks to a late score by their captain and a generous refereeing call which gifted them their opening try, the World Cup runners-up of 12 months ago maintained a winning run against the Scots that stretches back to 1982. Eddie Jones and his Wallabies, however, did not escape Hampden without significant wounds.

Indeed, their resources are stretched to the limit as they prepare to face England at Twickenham next Saturday. Stirling Mortlock suffered a fractured cheekbone after three minutes yesterday and requires an operation. Stephen Larkham fractured his left forearm in the closing stages of the first half. And Clyde Rathbone, according to his coach, only has "a 10 per cent chance" of facing England after injuring his groin.

"Justin Harrison has a bit of a groin injury too," Jones added. "We'll need all hands on deck next week. We might need to bring over replacements." The Wallabies have not beaten one of the top three nations away from home for three years now but their coach is refusing to fear the worst for next Saturday, despite the worrying casualty list and the stuttering form his team produced in the freezing, half-full bowl of Hampden. "We don't like to make excuses," Jones said. "We're looking forward to facing England next week."

Still, the result aside, it was Scotland who could derive more satisfaction from a fast and loose encounter. They were within seven points of the Wallabies with five minutes remaining and in Chris Cusiter had the game's outstanding individual. An international debutant in February, the Borders scrum-half played with the assurance of a world-class veteran. He might have played on a winning side, too, had the Scots not been on the suffering end of a pivotal first-half miss by the referee, Alan Lewis.

It came with Scotland in the ascendancy, 6-3 in front after 22 minutes, Chris Paterson having replied twice over to Matt Giteau's opening penalty. They were on the front foot and pressing hard in the Australian half when George Smith broke out of defence and burst over the halfway line. In the process of being tackled, the Brumbies' blindslide clearly spilled the ball forward but play was allowed to continue and, from recycled possession, Chris Latham fed Lote Tuqiri for a score in the left corner. Giteau converted and, though Paterson landed a long-range penalty, Australia struck again two minutes before half-time.

Latham found Phil Waugh on the right and the flanker spun through the clutches of Sean Lamont to touch down. Giteau's conversion made it 17-9 to the Wallabies at the break but their back-line was in a further state of disarray, with Mat Rogers on for the limping Rathbone and Elton Flatley replacing Larkham.

The extent of the damage to Scotland's resolve remained to be seen. It would have been compounded had Giteau landed a 35-yard penalty three minutes into the second half but his kick crept wide, leaving the Scots with half a chance of redemption.

It took until the 51st minute for Scotland to get back on to the front foot, Cusiter showing the way with a dazzling 40m break up the middle. Ben Hinshelwood failed to finish the move in the right corner but three points from the boot of Paterson reduced the gap to 17-12. The deficit might have been further reduced three minutes later but, after another brilliant break by Cusiter, Dan Parks was a foot off target with a drop goal attempt from the 22m line.

Thus reprieved, the Wallabies strove for the sanctuary of the comfort zone. Jeremy Paul took them towards it with a charging run on the right which led to Giteau breaking through an attempted Andy Henderson tackle to score the third Australian try to the left of the posts. Flatley converted but in attempting to clear from the restart his kick was charged down on the 22 by Ally Hogg, who proceeded to score in the left corner. Paterson missed the conversion, leaving a seven-point gap with 15 minutes remaining but the margin had doubled by the final whistle, George Gregan finishing off a looping break by Latham under the posts and Giteau adding the conversion.

Hogg came within a whisker of grounding a second try in the closing stages but the ultimate outcome was another Groundhog day for Scotland: a second loss to Australia in three weeks, a fifth in 13 months, a 14th in succession in 22 years. Nevertheless, Matt Williams, their Aussie coach, had reason to be cheerful in the aftermath.

"We lost and we don't believe in glorious defeat, but it was still a tremendous effort," he said. "We were looking for an improvement today and the guys stepped up against a very good Australian team. Take away the try that wasn't and the difference was seven points. There was a tangible improvement." There was indeed. It was Scotland's narrowest losing margin against the Wallabies for eight years.

Scotland: H Southwell (Edinburgh); C Paterson (Edinburgh), B Hinshelwood (Worcester), A Henderson (Glasgow), S Lamont (Glasgow); D Parks (Glasgow), C Cusiter (Borders); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), G Bulloch (Glasgow, capt), G Kerr (Leeds), S Grimes (Newcastle), N Hines (Edinburgh), A Hogg (Edinburgh), D Macfadyen (Glasgow), J Petrie (Glasgow). Replacements: B Douglas (Borders) for Kerr, 49; J White (Sale) for Petrie, 49; S Macleod (Borders) for Hines, 70; G Morrison (Glasgow) for Henderson, 70); R Russell (London Irish) for Bulloch, 74 ; M Blair (Edinburgh) for Cusiter, 74.

Australia: C Latham (Queensland); C Rathbone (ACT), S Mortlock (ACT), M Giteau (ACT), L Tuqiri (New South Wales); S Larkham (ACT), G Gregan (capt); B Young (ACT), J Paul (ACT), A Baxter (New South Wales), J Harrison (New South Wales), D Vickerman (New South Wales), G Smith (ACT), P Waugh (New South Wales), D Lyons (New South Wales). Replacements: W Sailor (Qld) for Mortlock, 3; E Flatley (Qld) for Larkham, 38; M Rogers (NSW) for Rathbone, 38; M Dunning for Young, 57; B Cannon (NSW) for Paul, 65 ; S Hoiles (NSW) for Lyons, 73; Young for Baxter 78; R Samo (ACT) for Vickerman, 80.

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).

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