Scotland 22-23 Australia: Five talking points from the Murrayfield heartbreak
History repeated itself as the Scots succumbed to a late score from the Wallabies, but Rory Baldwin saw lots of positives for Vern Cotter's men
1. This was the same – but different
Yes, it was another one-point loss to the Wallabies put to bed in the dying minutes, but this defeat for Scotland was a lot different to the World Cup nailbiter from 2015, the last time these teams met.
For starters, there was far less referee-related controversy. The Scots came out on top in the try count this time too. They weren’t chasing their opponents, they were competing with them. Scoreline aside, there was more positive than negative to take from this one.
2. The front row passed the test
There was a lot of worry running up to the game around the absence of both WP Nel and Alasdair Dickinson through injury. The fate of the scrums was placed in the hands of 20-year-old Zander Fagerson (one cap) and former South African U20 Allan Dell (0 caps) and overall they gave a good account of themselves.
The scrum wobbled and yes there were penalties, but it never capitulated, and both props put in strong carries during an impressive first half for the Scots.
The main thing was that the scrum wasn’t turned into a stream of points for the Wallabies.
Sterner scrummaging challenges await them in the form of Argentina and Georgia over the next two weekends. If they come through those with pride intact, we should see an end to the first-choice front row having to play for a full 80 minutes when Nel and Dickinson return.
3. Jones was the centre of attention
Last year Duncan Taylor was the breakout star in midfield, and his injury and lack of game time was seen as a blow to Scotland’s prospects this autumn.
We needn’t have worried: it looks like the exiles system has unearthed another star in the form of Huw Jones. Playing in the same 13 shirt favoured by both Taylor and Mark Bennett, the Edinburgh-born Western Province/Stormers centre had just one five-minute cameo to his name to date. So his exact international quality was unknown, although his Currie Cup highlights reels on Youtube were impressive enough.
His first try was a thing of beauty conjured by Finn Russell, a deft chip kick bouncing perfectly for Jones to angle on to; there wasn’t a gold shirt near him once he hit top speed.
The second was similarly impressive, using his footwork to elude Tevita Kuridrani when it looked like perhaps Scotland should have gone towards the other wing where Sean Maitland saw an overlap.
Like young Fagerson, Jones looks totally at ease at this level and should earn a further two matches to showcase his talents; a move north should be next.
4. Injuries at the start cost Scotland at the end
By the end of this one, Scotland had Grant Gilchrist packing down on the blindside with both Gray brothers still on. The superb John Barclay was all but out on his feet carrying a limp shoulder, having tackled himself to a standstill.
It all started with an early injury to No 8 Ryan Wilson, that meant a dynamic back row consisting entirely of opensides. When replacement John Hardie was injured later in the game, the toll of a hugely intense effort in both defence and attack started to take its toll on the Scottish pack.
With tired bodies come tired minds, and an almost inevitable increase in the penalty count against Scotland allowed Australia to keep probing. Kuridrani’s heart-breaker of a try in the 76th minute effectively settled the issue, as the Scots found it extremely difficult to make ground against a dogged Wallaby defence in the closing minutes.
Devastating for such a superhuman effort to be, in the end, not quite enough.
5. Food for thought ahead of Argentina
When asked in the post-match performance if this loss was harder to take than the World Cup loss, Greig Laidlaw insisted that game was gone, in the past. This one has to be locked away now too, and quickly. With Argentina coming off the back of a narrow loss to Wales, they will be targeting this weekend’s game for a ‘bounce back’ win.
It wasn’t a complete performance by any means but the key pointers to work on are simple things, even if they are not unfamiliar failings.
Restarts and kick-offs are still a nightmare, the exit strategies were not as effective as they should be. Scotland should be using Stuart Hogg’s giant boot for any touch finders and clearances, and he or Russell should take any penalties at the limit of Laidlaw’s range.
Tommy Seymour may come back in on the wing while the back row will almost certainly change with injuries to Wilson and Hardie likely to mean a first cap for Cornell du Preez.
Finally, Scotland need to trust in each other to score points, and focus on retaining possession.
However, that first-half effort showed that the blueprint for the future of Scottish rugby is coming closer to fruition.