Young Scots give Williams a silver lining

Scotland 14 - Australia 31
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The Independent Online

By the final whistle at Murrayfield last night, the Australians were choking back the bitter pill of disappointment and defeat. Sadly for Scotland, they were the Australians within the home camp.

For Matt Williams, Dan Parks and Nathan Hines, there was no sweet, odds-defying victory against their native compatriots from Down Under. In terms of the final result, the first of Scotland's four autumn internationals ran pretty much to form. For a 14th match in succession, Scotland failed to beat the Wallabies. They did, however, take a moral victory.

Weakened by injuries and English-based absentees, Williams's new-look young Caledonians were 28-0 and four tries down by the 34th minute before achieving a radical transformation. Hitting back with tries by Sean Lamont and Hugo Southwell, they "won" the second-half 14-3 and got within 20 points of the Wallabies for the first time in eight years.

These were not inconsiderable consolations for Williams, a Sydneysider, and the rest of his coaching team. They could have been excused for fearing the worst as Australia dusted off early cobwebs and got into their stride, with Clyde Rathbone running riot. The South African-born wing made the opening try and claimed two himself before departing with an injured hand midway through the second half.

Ultimately, Eddie Jones had almost as much reason for disappointment as Williams, his World Cup runners-up having run out of steam with a vengeance on the first leg of their European tour.

Having seen his side falter up front in the Tri-Nations decider in Durban in August, Jones replaced David Lyons with John Roe in the back row and Brendan Cannon with Jeremy Paul at hooker. The pair hardly made the best of starts, between them fluffing a line-out close to their own try-line and conceding Scotland a golden chance with just three minutes on the clock.

Fortunately for them, the hosts failed to grasp the opportunity and the visitors also breathed a collective sigh of relief when Chris Paterson missed a sitter of a penalty four minutes later. It was just the invitation the Wallabies needed to brush off the rust, the majority of them having gone two months without seriously competitive action.

Certainly, there was little corrosion evident in Rathbone's form. It was his break through the middle that opened the floodgates, the bullocking right wing leaving Chris Cusiter and Dan Parks clutching thin Caledonian air before he fed Stirling Mortlock for a try under the posts. Matt Giteau's conversion made it 7-0 to the visitors with 13 minutes gone and by the 31st minute the gap had stretched to 21 after two tries finished with high-speed aplomb by Rathbone on the right.

Both were converted and adeptly crafted - the first courtesy of a Chris Latham feed after an initial charge by Paul, the second after slick midfield manoeuvring by Stephen Larkham and George Smith. It left the inexperienced Scots in a state of disorientation and they had little time to recover.

Just three minutes later Lote Tuqiri touched down in the right corner after George Gregan met a Lamont tackle with a superbly-improvised overhead basketball pass to the Fijian-born wing. Giteau again converted from a tight angle and the inside-centre was getting ready for another pot at the posts until the video referee ruled that Hines had held up Larkham as the Wallaby outside-half tried to slide the ball over the line.

There was heavy irony in the suggestion that it might be the turning point, but thus it proved. Trailing 28-0 at the interval, Scotland looked to be facing a backs-to the-wall fight to avoid getting close to their record Murrayfield defeat, 68-10 against the Springboks in 1997. As it was, by the 51st minute they had halved the deficit and were back in the game with a vengeance.

In replacing Gray with Jon Petrie and Stuart Moffat with Southwell at half-time, Williams beefed up his pack and found vital clout behind the scrum. Three minutes into the second-half, Lamont burrowed over from close range and Paterson converted. Then, six minutes later, Southwell, who made such a huge impression as a stand-in full-back for Paterson in Australia last summer, made his attacking presence felt, breaking into the line on the left, cutting inside Tuqiri and riding a Mortlock tackle to slide the ball over the line for a try that required two minutes of video confirmation.

Paterson again converted and, with their lead cut to 28-14, the stunned Wallabies were happy to halt the Scottish momentum for ten minutes before getting points back on the board, courtesy of a Giteau penalty in the 63rd minute. Australia took the Hopetoun Cup at the final whistle. Scotland took the hope.

Scotland: S Moffat (Borders); S Lamont (Glasgow) 13 G Morrison (Glasgow), A Henderson (Glasgow), C Paterson (Edinburgh); D Parks (Glasgow), C Cusiter (Borders); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), G Bulloch (Glasgow, capt), B Douglas (Borders), N Hines (Edinburgh), S MacLeod (Borders), S Gray (Borders), D Macfadyen (Glasgow), A Hogg (Edinburgh). Replacements: R Ford (Borders) for Bulloch, 76; C Smith (Edinburgh) for Douglas, 63; A Kellock (Edinburgh) for MacLeod, 50-59, 67; J Petrie (Glasgow) for Gray, 40; M Blair (Edinburgh) for Cusiter, 76; A Craig (Glasgow) for Morrison, 64; H Southwell (Edinburgh) for Moffat, 40.

Australia: C Latham (Reds); C Rathbone (Brumbies), S Mortlock (Brumbies), M Giteau (Brumbies), L Tuqiri (Waratahs); S Larkham (Brumbies), G Gregan (Brumbies, capt); B Young (Brumbies), J Paul (Brumbies), A Baxter (Waratahs), J Harrison (Waratahs), D Vickerman (Waratahs), G Smith (Brumbies), P Waugh (Waratahs), J Roe (Reds). Replacements: B Cannon (Waratahs) for Paul, 79; M Dunning (Waratahs) for Young, 67; M Chisholm (Brumbies) for Vickerman, 75; D Lyons (Waratahs) for Waugh, 45; E Flatley (Reds) for Larkham, 69; M Rogers (Waratahs) for Mortlock, 69; W Sailor (Reds) for Rathbone, 55.

Referee: S Walsh (New Zealand).