These have not been the best of times for Australian rugby. "Wallabies a house of cards, so Connolly shuffles deck again," the Sydney Morning Herald proclaimed in midweek after defeat against the Irish in Dublin prompted six changes from John Connolly for the visit to Edinburgh yesterday. Unfortunately for Scotland, Australia's coach had too many aces left in his new-look hand.
Having wobbled to the final test of their European tour with a draw in Cardiff, an unconvincing win in Rome and a loss at Lansdowne Road, Connolly's Wallabies steadied themselves for something of a Murrayfield hurrah. In running in five tries and rising to the heights of the highly proficient in the second half, they rattled up what was a record score for an Australian test side on Scottish soil - just one point shy of their highest tally against Scotland home or away.
In Stephen Larkham and Chris Latham, they had the trump cards of a supreme orchestrator and a lethal strike runner. In Stirling Mortlock, they also had a goalkicker of Wilkinsonesque precision, the Australian captain hitting the mark with all eight of his pots at the posts.
Sadly for the Scots, as they sought a sixth home win out of six in 2006, they had too few of their major players on the field. They were already without Jason White and Allister Hogg, cornerstones of the defence on which France and England foundered in last season's Six Nations Championship, when Frank Hadden's hand was further weakened before kick-off with the enforced withdrawl of Nathan Hines, the lock's appeal against a French league suspension failing to delay the administering of the punishment.
On top of that, Scotland offered much too little in attack. "We were well beaten by a better side," Hadden conceded. "We didn't perform with the accuracy required to beat a team as good as Australia."
At least the Scotland coach saw his side off to a good start, Chris Paterson landing a long-range penalty and Simon Webster cutting in off the left wing to cross. By half-time, though, Australia were 16-10 up thanks to three penalties and a conversion by Mortlock and a soft try by Larkham, who rode a weak tackle by Marcus Di Rollo before rolling over the line to score.
The momentum was with the men in the green and gold and they proceeded to pull clear in the early stages of the second-half. Twice Mark Gerrard touched down in the right corner: on the first occasion, thanks to a trademark Latham charge through the middle that tied in half of the Scottish defence, on the second, courtesy of some Larkham finesse, the outside-half dummying Phil Godman and eluding a Mike Blair tackle before spinning a scoring pass out to his right winger.
All of which, with two Larkham conversions, added up to Scotland staring at a 30-10 deficit, with 29 minutes remaining in which to salvage a modicum of pride. They showed signs of doing so when Dan Parks, their outside-half from New South Wales, hoisted a kick to the right corner and Lote Tuqiri's slip allowed Sean Lamont to collect the ball for his sixth Scotland try.
The Wallabies, however, finished with a flourish. Larkham and Phil Waugh combined to set up hooker Stephen Moore for a try on his full Test debut before Rory Lawson was summoned from the home bench to become the 1,003rd player capped by Scotland. Sadly, though, there was to be no fairy-tale baptism. It was the Gloucester scrum-half's attempted tackle that Latham broke through to score the final Wallaby try. If there was any celebratory dancing to be done last night, it was not really on the streets of Scotland.
Scotland: C Paterson (capt); S Webster, M Di Rollo (all Edinburgh), A Henderson (Glasgow), S Lamont (Northampton); D Parks (Glasgow), M Blair (Edinburgh); G Kerr (Borders), D Hall (Edinburgh), E Murray (Glasgow), A Kellock (Glasgow), S Murray, S Taylor (both Edinburgh), K Brown (Borders), D Callam (Edinburgh). Replacements: H Southwell (Edinburgh) for Webster, 8; P Godman (Edinburgh) for Di Rollo, 47-57, for Parks, 57; A Jacobsen (Edinburgh) for Kerr, 48; R Ford (Borders) for Hall 57; J Hamilton (Leicester) for S Murray, 68 ; A Strokosch (Edinburgh) for Brown, 68; R Lawson (Gloucester) for Blair, 71; Kerr for E Murray, 78.
Australia: C Latham (Queensland Reds); M Gerrard, S Mortlock (capt, both ACT Brumbies), S Staniforth (Western Force), L Tuqiri (NSW Waratahs); S Larkham (Brumbies), M Giteau (W Force); B Robinson (Waratahs), S Moore (Reds), G Shepherdson (Brumbies), N Sharpe (W Force), A Campbell, R Elsom (both Waratahs), G Smith (Brumbies), D Lyons (Waratahs). Replacements: W Paul (Waratahs) for Lyons, 60; P Waugh (Waratahs) for Smith, 60; M Chisholm (Brumbies) for Elsom, 69; T Polata-Nau (Waratahs) for Moore, 72; M Rogers (Waratahs) for Staniforth, 76; A Baxter (Waratahs) for Robinson, 77; J Valentine (Reds) for Larkham, 77.
Referee: D Courtney (Ireland).