Wallabies pay high price for victory

Scotland 17 - Australia 31
Click to follow
The Independent Online

After the Old Firm engagement in Glasgow on Saturday, it was the turn of the infirm. While at Ibrox the footballers of Celtic dropped like flies in the heat of a derby battle, two of them being sent off after a mass descent of red mist, across the city at Hampden the rugby players of Australia were like Wallabies gone walkabout on the set of Casualty. Or limp-about, to be precise.

By half-time, in fact, Stirling Mortlock, was indeed in the local casualty department, having suffered a depressed fracture of the cheekbone while attempting a third-minute tackle on Andy Henderson. "He'll require an operation and obviously he'll miss the rest of the tour," Eddie Jones later reported in what proved to be more of a medical bulletin than a post-match press conference by the Wallaby coach.

Stephen Larkham's tour was also declared over, the number 10 having dropped like a swatted fly-half in the move that yielded the second of Australia's four tries, just before half-time. "He's got a fracture in his forearm," Jones said. Clyde Rathbone also has "quite a serious injury," according to his coach. "Clyde's probably got about a 10 per cent chance of playing next week," Jones estimated.

On top of all that, Justin Harrison suffered "a bit of a groin strain" in the course of Australia's victory, which means at Twickenham this coming Saturday the Wallabies could well be a further plank short of a full deck, as Austin Healey might choose to put it.

With wounds to red rose pride still raw from that 51-15 mauling in Brisbane in June, the World Cup runners-up are hardly in the rudest of health for a visit to England's HQ. The patched-up back line which ultimately took Australia to victory at Hampden was not exactly second-class, with Elton Flatley, Mat Rogers and Wendell Sailor performing the stand-in roles. Having both been out for three-quarters of 2004 because of injury, though, Flatley and Rogers are a long way from the top of their games, and, such is the paucity of back-up resources, Jones may yet decide to call home for reinforcements. "We're going to need all hands on deck next week," Jones acknowledged. "Of course it's a huge worry, but we'll get on with it. We don't like to make excuses. We're feeling good about [playing] England next week."

In the circumstances, it was understandable that Jones insisted upon feeling good about the Australian performance - even though Scotland were within seven points of them with five minutes remaining, though Ally Hogg (having already charged down a Flatley kick to score) was a whisker away from a last-minute try, and even though the referee, Alan Lewis, seemed to be the only person in Hampden who missed the blatant knock-on in the move that led to Lote Tuqiri's opening score midway through the first-half.

George Smith clearly knocked the ball five yards forward as he crossed the halfway line, although Jones saw it differently. "He threw the ball backwards into the shoulder and that means 'play on'," he contended. Asked whether he coached his players in the art of throwing the ball against the shoulder in order to propel it forward, Jones replied: "Yeah, it's one of our tricks. Georgie Smith learned it in school."

It was no laughing matter for the Scots. They leaked second-half tries to Phil Waugh, Matt Giteau and George Gregan but nevertheless emerged with credit after a highly encouraging showing. They also emerged with the man-of-the-match - the sparky Chris Cusiter, still a cub in international terms, looking increasingly like a Lion in the making.

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)