Just when we expect them to win, Scotland lose. Australia had lost the previous three meetings with their hosts, but they held their nerve here to sneak a precious win at the start of their tour of Europe. Blair Kinghorn had a chance to win it for Scotland only to pull a long-range penalty in the last minute of the match.
If only Scotland had chosen to go for the posts earlier, they might not have needed it. There was much to encourage them, not least the performance of Kinghorn as a playmaker. But for every plus there was a minus, very often from the same player. Glen Young, for example, came on in the first half and played well, but a yellow card in the second half for a dangerous clear-out on Tate McDermott proved costly. Not that it was physically possible for him to clear out without making such contact, but that’s where rugby is nowadays. Australia scored their try while he was away.
In so doing, they overturned a nine-point deficit in the final quarter. Scotland seemed to have the game under control, a brilliant solo try by Kinghorn having put them in charge. It complemented another brilliant score in the first half, this one by Ollie Smith, the young full-back making his home debut. The absences of Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg did not feel so aching at that point.
Smith scored from practically Scotland’s first attack of the match, after 10 minutes. Sione Tuipulotu carried hard off a lineout, before showing soft hands a phase or two later to find Kinghorn on the loop. The fly-half drew in Bernard Foley and released Smith through a gap. His first step beat one, and his second to beat the last man was glorious. Hogg himself would have been proud of the footwork.
At that point Scotland would have been feeling quite pleased with themselves. They had defended manfully against waves of Australian pressure, and their clinical attack had yielded fruit at the first attempt. Very All Blacks.
If only they had shown similar ruthlessness in the second quarter. Twice in the same period of pressure they declined penalties in front of the posts. Twice they failed to score. Discipline was a problem for both sides, some of it infuriating. Pierre Schoeman, a punishing carrier if ever there were one, at one point in the first half inexplicably chose to launch himself, Schuperman-style, over the next tackler. Penalty against Scotland. Foley was less shy of the posts, pulling three points back, before edging the Wallabies into the lead with the last kick of the half.
Scotland responded almost immediately upon the restart. They scored 10 points in the third quarter to put themselves more than a score ahead. Kinghorn accounted for them all. The rangy playmaker showed off the pace that makes him such a fine full-back too, when he pounced on a loose ball after Mark Bennett’s tackle had defused an Australian attack. Kinghorn streaked clear of the field, deftly kicked the ball ahead twice, before collecting to score.
Ten minutes later, having sent a couple more penalties to touch, he finally pointed at the posts when Foley was caught offside. Scotland had a nine-point lead but their discipline let them down in the crucial minutes round the hour mark. Young’s infringement was in many ways the least of them. Nevertheless, it came just as Scotland were swarming in Australia’s 22. He was sent to the sin-bin, and Australia capitalised. They set up an attacking lineout and worked a sweet try, forwards and backs combining slickly to set up James Slipper for a tilt at the line.
With 10 minutes remaining and two points in arrears, Foley was only too happy to point at the posts when Australia were awarded a penalty for offside. He converted to set up the finale.
Taniela Tupous was penalised at a breakdown, affording Kinghorn one last swing at glory. “We need to get round Blair,” said Jamie Ritchie, Scotland’s captain. “Unfortunately, he didn’t make the kick, but that’s not his fault. There were opportunities out there to win it.”
There were indeed. Scotland should be kicking themselves, if not the points.