By Alan Dymock
PLAYED OUT in the kind of conditions that would have drowned ducks and bent weathervanes Scotland set themselves up for a stripped down but dogged performance against Australia in Newcastle, New South Wales.
The 9-6 scoreline told its own story. This was no try-fest yet all over Scotland fans are toasting playing up to their national stereotype of being thrifty and mean.
Picking Ryan Grant for his first cap at loosehead, Euan Murray at tight head and John Barclay at number 8 it was obviously a team set out to defend the whitewash, while a back row of Barclay, Alasdair Strokosch and Ross Rennie was in fact one with the purpose of slowing momentum and clawing forward whenever possible.
In a first half where Scotland had swirling wind at their backs it was a case of leaning towards Australia’s 22m line and waiting to lasso anything in Gold.
Berrick Barnes at 10 had chance after chance to dig out kicks, but Scotland kept coming back. They had Digby Ioane and an uncapped Joseph Tomane on the wings, shivering like sodden scamps, and all the while resigned to the fact that runs for them would be few and far between. Fellow debutant Luke Morahan was too focussed on clearing his lines to wonder whether or not his team mates would appreciate a slope up the field.
Will Genia looked like he wanted to splash and fizz yet by the time Scotland had clambered atop a 6-0 lead it was best for the Queensland Red to hit Barnes or a demanding Scott Higginbotham and hope that once the pack had slipped past another set of defenders the half-backs could unburden themselves again.
Australia had the ability to put the phases together, but with Scotland unrelentingly making for the Wallabies tryline –almost demonstrated by a rampaging Sean Lamont –the best option was to try and play out and hope passes stuck.
They need not have been too worried at half-time. They only conceded two kicks and got one back by waiting patiently and trotting around the edge of rucks. Their scrum was holding up, if only because the referee played on whenever both packs went to ground, and Scotland’s lineout was too often at the mercy of the wind.
In the second-half this changed as the hosts benefitted from having a gale on their side. Frozen hands were clasped, more inside balls were given to Australian runners and more collisions took place in the midfield until Australia kicked another goal to make it 6-6.
This is where Scotland came into their own, however.
Some perhaps hoped that the rain and bluster would settle in the Scots’ favour, but in truth it was more of a leveller. Instead Scotland advanced because they were able to make telling tackles and had the referee’s attention once Australia made it into the scoring zone.
Of course Australia made their own hits, with an impressive blast from Anthony Fainga’a on a whiplashed Ross Ford standing out. They also made some telling turnovers. The difference was that the desperation from Scotland was more accurate as Golden waves crashed under the posts. Held up lunges and forced drop-goals were testament to that.
In the end it came down to one scrum that stayed up, and as Murray rolled back the years the referee was forced to raise his arm. Greig Laidlaw kicked the winning penalty and the players were compelled to rain dance in joy at the 9-6 scoreline.
Scotland have recently been subject to ridicule after a hugely dispiriting Six Nations campaign. However, after this fierce defensive and tactical display even the most ardent naysayer must accede that it was Scotland’s day. Coach Robbie Deans is only too aware of that now.
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