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Australia and Bernard Foley break Scotland hearts in World Cup drama

Almost every game at this World Cup has captured the imagination but none has contained a more contentious late twist than this one. Australia are into the semi-finals but only by virtue of a disputed last-minute penalty kicked by Bernard Foley that will be debated everywhere from Sydney to the Shetland Isles for weeks, if not years, to come.

For a moment it had seemed as if the unthinkable was about to unfold, Mark Bennett having intercepted a loose pass from the Wallaby replacement James Slipper to score under the posts with six minutes left. Greig Laidlaw’s conversion had put Scotland 34-32 ahead, with rain teeming down and the Wallabies suddenly facing oblivion, when the referee, Craig Joubert, awarded a penalty against the Scottish replacement Jon Welsh for catching a fumbled ball in an offside position.

Subsequent examination of television replays indicated that the ball had been touched by Australia’s Nick Phipps before it reached Welsh, sparking anger in the BBC Radio 5 Live commentary box, where the former Scotland captain Gavin Hastings labelled the South African official a “disgrace” for not consulting the television match official and running from the field at the end. The TMO, technically, is not supposed to be employed in such cases but seldom in rugby are the stakes quite this high.

On a normal afternoon Australia would have confidently assumed that five tries would safely secure them a semi-final against Argentina with a bit to spare but the absence of David Pocock and Israel Folau helped give Scotland a foothold even after Tevita Kuridrani’s 65th minute try had put his side 32-24 ahead of the persevering boys in blue. Were Australia overconfident? It was more a case of Scotland scrapping for everything and refusing to lie down.

Tartan belief was not exactly brimming before kick-off, given there have been as many Scottish Test victories in south-west London in the professional era as sightings of the Loch Ness monster in the River Thames.

With Stephen Moore and Matt Giteau winning their 100th caps for Australia and the weather set fair, it was always going to require something special to subdue the Wallaby threat and there was nothing to suggest initially it would materialise. Scotland did have Jonny Gray and Ross Ford back in their starting lineup after their suspensions were belatedly overturned but there was still a collective air of uncertainty.

It was no surprise to anyone in the stadium when Kuridrani broke clear of an ill-judged Tommy Seymour tackle and sent Adam Ashley-Cooper diving into the right corner but there were also signs of Australia getting slightly ahead of themselves. Foley should have either scored himself or held on to the ball rather than attempting a fanciful offload to Drew Mitchell with the line yawning. At the other end WP Nel was making some inroads into the Wallaby scrummage and Laidlaw duly kicked his side back into the contest when Scott Fardy was rightly penalised for cynically halting a promising Scottish attack.

Soon, though, it began to feel as if the famous Hampden roar had been smuggled south to the home of English rugby. Scotland established a platform in the Wallaby 22 and, with defenders fanning out either side of the ruck, Peter Horne nipped through the middle untouched to score. It was only the third try the Wallabies have conceded in five games at this tournament.

Laidlaw’s conversion and another scrum penalty stretched the lead to 13-5, more than enough to test Australia’s nerve. Remarkably the Wallabies had lost only one previous World Cup game in the northern hemisphere in their history, against England in the 2007 quarter-final, and an increasingly upbeat Scotland was not what the flying doctor had ordered.

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Australia, though, are proving a resourceful bunch and two tries in 10 minutes immediately prior to half-time reduced the margin to a single point. First sure hands worked Mitchell over in the left corner and Michael Hooper then finished off a forward drive to drag his side further back into it.

The third quarter was always going to be crucial so it came as a sizeable blow when Sean Maitland was sent to the sin-bin for a supposedly deliberate knock-on that the referee, Joubert, initially seemed to regard as a simple knock-on. Australia are consistently switched on in such circumstances and, sure enough, the ball was swiftly worked back out to Scotland’s unguarded left flank for Mitchell to score his second and Australia’s fourth.

Foley, having missed his first three conversion attempts, finally landed one from the touchline and it appeared to be going badly wrong for the Scots when Kurtley Beale worked another overlap to put Ashley-Cooper over again. Luckily for Vern Cotter’s team it was ruled out for a knock-on at the final ruck but a subsequent Foley penalty gave Australia a six-point cushion entering the final quarter.

It was anything but over. Russell’s chargedown of Foley’s kick transformed the momentum of the game again, Seymour squeezing over on the left after a wonderful tackle by Will Genia had stopped Russell but failed to snuff out the move. It was merely the prelude to an even more dramatic final reel, with Twickenham transformed into a raucous Highland cathedral as Bennett threatened to turn the world on its head. The Scots had reckoned without Foley – and Joubert – stealing their thunder.

Australia Beale; Ashley-Cooper, Kuridrani, Giteau, Mitchell; Foley, Genia (Phipps, 71); Sio (Slipper, 51), Moore (capt), Kepu (Holmes, 54), Douglas, Simmons (Mumm, 66), Fardy, Hooper, McCalman. Tries Ashley-Cooper, Mitchell 2, Hooper, Kuridrani. Cons Foley 2. Pens Foley 2.

Scotland Hogg; Maitland, Bennett, Horne (Vernon, 71), Seymour (Lamont, 63); Russell, Laidlaw (capt); Dickinson (Reid, 47), Ford (Brown, 53), Nel (Welsh, 75), R Gray, J Gray (Swinson, 67), Cowan (Strauss, 67), Hardie, Denton. Sin-bin Maitland 41. Tries Horne, Seymour, Bennett. Cons Laidlaw 2. Pens Laidlaw 5.

Referee C Joubert (SA). Attendance 77,110.


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