Scotland, shouldering the slender hopes and dreams of the northern hemisphere, had their hearts broken by a last-minute penalty from Australia’s Bernard Foley to bow out of RWC 2015 in an agonising 35-34 defeat at Twickenham on Sunday.
Just six minutes earlier Scotland centre Mark Bennett had latched on to a horror pass by Wallaby replacement prop James Slipper to race in under the posts. Greig Laidlaw’s conversion then gave Vern Cotter’s battling team a 34-32 lead, and started the Scots dreaming of a first World Cup semi-final appearance since 1991.
Scotland gave their all and, buoyed by 19 points from the punishing boot of Laidlaw, can count themselves desperately unlucky.
It was the Wallabies, feasting off some early front-foot ball, who took the lead after eight minutes of a pulsating contest when centre Tevita Kuridrani broke Tommy Seymour’s attempted tackle to put wing Adam Ashley-Cooper diving over in the right-hand corner.
Scotland surged back into the Australian half and Laidlaw reduced the deficit to two points with a penalty after Wallabies’ flanker Scott Fardy was penalised.
The Scots grew in confidence after Laidlaw’s three-pointer and the Wallabies were rocked further back on their heels when centre Peter Horne crossed underneath the posts after picking the ball up a ruck and racing over unopposed. Laidlaw added the conversion for a 10-5 lead.
Australia were clearly rattled and, when Scotland turned the screw at a scrum – loosehead Scott Sio was penalised for collapsing under pressure from WP Nel – Laidlaw stepped up to land the penalty and make it 13-5 with 25 minutes played.
Scotland were excellent value for their lead but Australia underlined their potency with the ball in hand to reduce the deficit to three points after 30 minutes with a try by left wing Drew Mitchell, after Sio and Kane Douglas made the initial dents in the Scottish defence.
Another penalty by Laidlaw, after more pressure on the Australian scrum, put Scotland 16-10 ahead on 33 minutes before the Wallabies struck on the stroke of half-time to make it 16-15 through Michael Hooper.
The Wallabies scored immediately after the break when Scotland wing Sean Maitland was adjudged to have deliberately knocked on and sent to the sin bin. Mitchell dived over from the ensuing lineout for his second try of the match and Foley at last found his range to put Australia in front 22-16.
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