RWC 2015: Wallabies edge Scotland
Bernard Foley kicks a late penalty to beat Scotland by one point in a World Cup classic.
It started out as a sunny day at Twickenham but ended like that infamous rain-soaked night in Newcastle in 2012, but with a crucial twist. This time it was the Wallabies with the match-winning penalty as the rain poured down. Bernard Foley nailed it but the real focus will now begin on referee Craig Joubert. Replays showed the final penalty was generous to the men in gold, and he had already gifted the men in gold an earlier try with a brutally harsh yellow card on Scotland winger Sean Maitland.
That debate will begin, but another has been settled. The fate of the Wallabies’ World Cup chances now rest on the condition of David Pocock’s calf. The medical updates early last week proved reliably unreliable, always a little too upbeat considering the grimace on Pocock’s face when he left the fray against Wales. Pray that this week brings better news, because Scotland showed at Twickenham that the Wallabies cannot be world champions without him.
Controversial: Referee Craig Joubert speaks to Australia’s captain Stephen Moore. Photo: AP
The scoreboard will record a one-point win but even that doesn’t do justice to how close the Wallabies came to losing.
Until Foley’s nerveless penalty the defining image of the game was Michael Hooper looking at Joubert pleading for a penalty at the breakdown while attempting a steal and being told that he did not survive the cleanout. Hooper has many qualities but he is not the same presence over the ball as Pocock. In fact, it took 37 minutes for the Wallabies to effect their first breakdown penalty. Having schooled both England and Wales in the tackle contest, the Wallabies were on the receiving end of that unpalatable medicine. And the difference was just the one man.
It was not just over the ball where the Wallabies struggled. After a first 10 minutes in which it appeared the Scots did not really believe they belonged on such a big stage, their big men rolled up their sleeves. The Gray brothers, Richie and Jonny, hooker Ross Ford and No.8 David Denton were punching holes in the Wallabies defence a little too easily, bringing the canny Scotland halfback of Greig Laidlaw and Finn Russell into the game.
Integral: David Pocock’s return holds the key to the Wallabies’ World Cup hopes. Photo: Getty Images
At the scrum the transplanted South African WP Nel gave Scott Sio the worst day of his young Wallabies career, working him over comprehensively until the young Brumby was injured at a collapsed scrum in the second half and was forced told to leave with a worrying-looking injury. His campaign may be over.
Once it became apparent that the Scots had the ability to rattle some Australian bones, the ripples spread from the pack to the pilots. Foley was targeted by a succession of Scotland bombs and dropped one cold. Then the yips crept back into his goalkicking, allowing the Scots to head into the break with a one-point lead. On the hour his laboured chip kick was charged down to gift the Scotland a try. The heroics against England seemed a long time ago. This was the Foley of the latter part of the Waratahs campaign, until redemption came knocking with almost the last kick of the game.
The importance of Pocock’s missing turnovers became even more apparent as the first 40 minutes drew to a close. Two rolling mauls split the Scots and Hooper drove over. But the genesis of the try was a penalty won by Sio over the ball back in the Wallabies half. Pocock’s value is not just in stopping points, but in creating them. There is no player left in the tournament who has such an influence on his team.
Bernard Foley kicks the match winning penalty. Photo: AP
If there was a bright spot in the Wallabies game, it was their magnificence at the restarts, both in defence – where Adam Ashley-Cooper was superb – and on attack, where Foley’s accuracy again gave the chasers a target.
Still, the get out of jail card has been used courtesy of Mr Joubert. It may turn out to the escape the Wallabies needed, just like Ireland in 1991. But they will need a certain No.8 back to capitalise on a good slice of fortune under dramatic London skies.