Well that was painful! A full-blooded, committed performance from Scotland but still the defensive frailties that have been evident throughout this RWC persisted. 12 tries were conceded in the last 3 games (with another 2 disallowed) and Matt Taylor has some serious work to do. And then there was the final 2 minutes… But this is about the players not the officials so let’s get on with it:
Stuart Hogg – 6
Cramp issues seemed to be behind him although that may be down to how little ground he had to cover ball in hand – just 15 metres from 5 carries. With Australia controlling the territory they had little need to kick to our back 3 and opportunities to counter were limited and he didn’t really challenge the green and gold defence enough. Boomed some decent kicks deep but overall we needed to get him in the game more. Quality try saver on AAC epitomized the Scots defensive effort.
Sean Maitland – 7
Another week, another 5 tackles made with none missed. Again that’s too many for a winger to be making and points to defensive deficiencies along the line. If the ball had stuck when he got in front of the Oz winger I don’t think he would have been caught but it didn’t come off. I’m sure he would have loved the armchair ride that AAC and Drew Mitchell got on the Australian flanks but this is Scotland and he’ll need to continue working hard to be involved.
Mark Bennett – 7
Rust cleared and back on form. Looked sharp throughout but he’ll look back with disappointment at the dropped pass in the first half where he would have, at the very least, made a huge gain in ground and put Scotland in a very strong position. There’s no coincidence that he’s picked up 3 intercept tries for the national team – he reads the play so well, possibly better than anyone else in Scottish rugby, and is also willing to take risks where there are big rewards available.
Peter Horne – 7
The defensive line was less passive than last Saturday against Samoa but Scotland still seemed content to drift and if anything seemed to be even narrower than the previous match – possibly to reduce the gaps the Samoan centres exploited so well. This reduced Pete’s effectiveness as he wasn’t getting in the face of Matt Giteau and at times Australia were able to move side to side with impunity until eventually they got outside our stretched defence. For all that there were two 7s on the pitch it was Horne who came up with the turnover of the day and he did his best to make a nuisance of himself at as many breakdowns as possible. Nice job on the Scotstoun Express for his try.
Tommy Seymour – 7
3 early mistakes from Tommy when he mixed some good stuff with some poor stuff – missed Kuridrani after making a good read that could have halted the Oz momentum; took it upon himself to kick to touch with Hogg on his shoulder; after his brilliant take of a high ball he had to offload to Horne who was screaming up alongside him but instead he took off running sideways. After that he settled down and really busted a gut to get to Russell to allow the offload that lead to his score. Should be back at Glasgow soon telling Toonie that he’s going to score in the first match of the Six Nations to make it 6 Tests in a row with a try and one up the coach!
Finn Russell – 7
The beating heart of the Scottish backline in attack. He took the ball to the line well, keeping the Australian defence honest and creating space for others to play off him. Won his personal duel with Bernard Foley who was well contained, not least by Finn himself. There were still occasions when it just would have been handy to have a bit more bulk in the 12 or 13 jersey to truck it up, take the pressure off, tie in some bodies and allow Russell to reset with a better chance of creating a mismatch.
Greig Laidlaw – 8
Nailed it. This was the performance Scotland fans had been looking for from Greig throughout this tournament. There were still a couple of instances of slowdown at rucks in the Oz 22, but that aside he ran the game superbly from a Scottish perspective – dictating to his forwards; good service to his backs; making the right decisions as captain about when to be aggressive and when to take the points.
Alasdair Dickinson – 7
Part of an extremely good scrummaging effort against a highly rated Wallabies unit that would have expected to seize the advantage. Has a very high work rate, particularly in defence, but with Australia able to get so much width on the ball sometimes he and our other tight defenders were peripheral to the real action which did reduce his effectiveness slightly.
Ross Ford – 7
Lineout throwing was on the money (although interestingly we didn’t have many lineouts early on as the Ozzies were happy to keep the ball in play). The 3 prop scrum worked well even without hooking. Upped the intensity of some of his tackling. Still no real breakdown presence but we’ll need to look elsewhere to find that. And at the minute it doesn’t seem that there’s anyone who can add that without the setpiece dropping off significantly.
WP Nel – 8
Fantastic, all-action effort from the big man out of Loeriesfontein. Scott Sio came into this game as one of the most dominant looseheads in the tournament but WP just tucked him in his pocket and kept him there the entire time he was on the pitch. Threw in more good work at the breakdown, winning a penalty for holding on and disrupting Australian ball. Carried strongly again and his presence is bringing more balance to the pack’s ball carrying which had been weighted too heavily to the back 5 in recent times.
Jonny Gray – 7
This week’s preparations must have been far from ideal for Gray Junior but he more than justified the call to parachute him into the starting line-up. His defensive effort was huge and he made some crucial tackles to bail out his team mates, chopping down Australian backs and forwards alike to total 18 made and none missed in his 66 minutes (no other Scot managed more than 11). Carrying was not as effective with much of his momentum going sideways and this is an area he’ll look to strengthen ahead of the Six Nations.
Richie Gray – 7
He’s raised his level in every game he’s played and it feels like it’s because he’s in a squad with coaches and players (in particular his wee bro) who are challenging him and pushing him. The worry is that he goes back to Castres and into his comfort zone again. Carried well and seemed more keen this week to take responsibility himself in this area rather than moving the ball on. Stole the one Oz lineout that Scotland really challenged for so it seemed odd that there weren’t more attempts to get him up in front of their jumpers. Equally there seemed to be no discernible strategy to counter their lineout drive with no challenge in the air; an inability to sack the jumper; and only once getting the counter drive on before they were set. Added to the 2 late botched lineouts it was a bit of a missed opportunity in what should have been an area of strength.
Blair Cowan – 6
He’s a very consistent player but he’s never really going to give you more or less than a 6 which is probably okay right now but if Scotland are going to push on they need players with more of a potential upside. Worked very hard around the fringes of the breakdown but could never quite get his hands on the ball which was extremely frustrating as Australia went through phase after phase getting quick ball over and over until Scotland ran out of defenders.
John Hardie – 7
Many of the comments applied to Cowan at the breakdown could be repeated for Hardie. He always seemed to just be inches away from getting his hands on the ball but, particularly in the first half, Australia were incredibly efficient at clearing out around the tackle area and presenting the ball back out of reach of Scottish clutches. Made yet more thumping tackles but I still have my doubts about his ability to go 80 minutes as his effectiveness seems to wane slightly. (Insert obligatory should we have brought Barclay to cover from the bench reference here).
David Denton – 8
Comfortably his best game in a Scotland jersey and my Man of the Match. He certainly picked a good time to showcase what he does so well – carry hard and knock 7 shades out of anybody who tries to tackle him. He made 56 metres from 14 carries – equal highest among all players with Kurtley Beale (who, let’s face it, was making easy yards in the open field and not the congested areas Dave was working in!) Topped it up with 8 tackles and none missed and excellent work from the base of the scrum – in fact his handling generally was very good with none of the clumsy errors that have blighted his game in the past and which made an unwelcome reappearance against Samoa. Last lineout was overthrown so would be tough to attach much blame to him. And he really does have lovely hair…
Fraser Brown – excellent turnover showed what he can do that Ford can’t but 2 late botched lineouts were very costly.
Gordon Reid – maintained Dickinson’s level on that side of the scrum. Would have liked to have seen him carry more.
Jon Welsh – struggled a bit in the scrum but got the decision from referee Joubert when he might have been pinged for dropping his bind.
Tim Swinson – a quiet outing by his standards.
Josh Strauss – found it tough to get into the game when he came on.
Henry Pyrgos – unused.
Richie Vernon – cameo – not too much can be said.
Sean Lamont – 12 RWC matches without a try – I really thought it was set up for him to get the crucial score! Will just need to play on until he’s 38 and have another shot in Japan.
Picture courtesy of Adrian Henry. Visit Rugby People for more of Adrian’s fine work.