Heroic Scots hold off doddering dingoes
Scotland 9 Australia 8: Giteau fluffs last kick but Robinson is in dreamland as brilliant defence gives Scotland first win over Wallabies since 1982
Sunday 22 November 2009
When Andy Robinson first took charge of an international side at the home of Scottish rugby, in his England days back in February 2006, he felt the full force of a supreme defensive effort that had his Red Rose team on the wrong end of an 18-12 upset. It could have been the blueprint for the monumental overture of a rearguard performance that took Scotland's head coach of five months to a victory of huge historical significance last night.
For 80 minutes Robinson's men succeeded in keeping out Rocky Elsom and his Wallabies. Sixteen seconds into overtime, the Caledonian whitewash was finally breached. With the Scots 9-3 to the good on the scoreboard, on the 20th phase of a last-gasp Australian assault, Matt Giteau fed Ryan Cross for a try to the left of the posts that plunged Murrayfield into a state of audible deflation. Scotland were still 9-8 in front, but with Giteau's conversion to come surely a bold Caledonian effort was about to be denied at the very death? But then, maybe not.
Giteau might be on the short list for the International Rugby Board's player of the year award but the outside-half had kicked like a doddering dingo all afternoon, missing eminently pottable penalties either side of half-time and also fluffing a sitter of a drop-goal. To the delight of nearly 45,000 whistling Scots, he continued in the same vein, pushing wide his kick from the 22-metre line.
Thanks to two Phil Godman penalties and a Chris Paterson drop-goal, Scotland had the victory their effort richly deserved – their first against Australia since 1982. Robinson, two games into his tenure as Scotland's head coach, had succeeded where Martin Johnson had so spectacularly failed against Robbie Deans's Wallabies down Twickenham way a fortnight ago.
"That that was the most courageous performance I've ever been involved in," the former England flanker and head coach said in the aftermath. "The effort that was put in, the way the team got off the floor and kept knocking them over, was incredible. And credit to Graham Steadman, our defence coach, for putting that together. We needed a bit of luck but I thought the guys worked hard to establish that luck."
They did that right from the start, before Giteau banged over a penalty in the sixth minute – his only success with the boot all afternoon. Soon afterwards, Sean Lamont made a superb covering tackle to thwart Cross and then did the same to deny Drew Mitchell. There was much more of the Caledonian defensive spirit required as the first half unfolded, with the Wallabies on the front foot and enjoying a monopoly of possession.
It took a combination of Rory Lamont, Moray Low and Chris Cusiter to hold up Stephen Moore when the Australian hooker took the ball across the Scottish line midway through the first half. Sadly, it was Cusiter's last stand, Scotland's scrum-half and captain departing in a groggy state. Still, Rory Lawson proved a more than able replacement from the bench and Scotland managed to get on level terms by the interval, Godman kicking a penalty after the Wallabies were pulled up for collapsing a maul.
When Giteau suffered his two penalty misses, either side of his drop-goal blank, there was the whiff of victory in Scottish nostrils. It might have been different had Elsom grounded the ball over the home line six minutes into the second half, but after the blindside flanker spun his way over the line from close quarters reference to television footage suggested that a Scottish hand – that of the prop Allan Jacobsen or the lock and stand-in captain, Alastair Kellock – had held it up.
The mounting pressure was relieved by a booming kick to the right corner by Nick de Luca, a half-time replacement at inside centre for Graeme Morrison. Godman was off target with a penalty that followed but from much the same position the Edinburgh fly-half struck a 57th-minute penalty that hit the left post and bounced over the crossbar.
It got worse for the Wallabies. When Mitchell ran the ball in on the left in the 65th minute, the referee, Romaine Poite, rightly blew his whistle for a forward pass to the winger from the centre Quade Cooper.
Then, four minutes from time, the Scottish pack engineered the drop-goal opportunity that Paterson took to make it 9-3. It proved enough of a cushion to withstand the late, desperate backlash by the Wallabies. Only just, mind.
Scotland R Lamont; S Lamont, A Grove, G Morrison (N De Luca, 40), S Danielli (C Paterson, 63); P Godman, C Cusiter (capt; R Lawson, 21); A Jacobsen, R Ford (D Hall, 77), M Low, N Hines, A Kellock, A Strokosch (J White, 48), J Barclay, J Beattie (R Vernon, 63).
Australia A Ashley-Cooper ; P Hynes, R Cross, Q Cooper (J O'Connor, 73), D Mitchell; M Giteau, W Genia (L Burgess, 63); B Robinson (S Kepu, 17), S Moore (T Polota-Nau, 46), B Alexander, J Horwill, M Chisholm (D Mumm, 50), R Elsom (capt), G Smith, W Palu (R Brown, 65).
Referee: R Poite (France).
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