Patched-up Australia beats Scotland 21-15
EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) — Australia shrugged off a troubled build-up and the absence of a string of key players to scrape past Scotland 21-15 for the third straight victory of its end-of-season European tour on Saturday.
The Wallabies’ patched-up backline scored tries through fullback Israel Folau in the first half and winger Chris Feauai-Sautia at the start of the second, with Christian Leali’ifano booting the rest of the points at Murrayfield.
The Scots, looking for a third successive win over Australia, were only 13-12 behind at halftime thanks to Greig Laidlaw’s unforgiving boot and were never more than a converted try in arrears after the break. But a familiar lack of cutting edge out wide proved their undoing.
The Australians started their tour with a disappointing 20-13 defeat to England, halting the momentum that had been built under Ewen McKenzie at the end of the Rugby Championship.
Convincing wins in Italy (50-20) and Ireland (32-15) restored some belief but McKenzie’s decision to ban six players — and caution nine others — for going out drinking three days before the Ireland game left his side an uphill battle at Murrayfield.
Five of the suspended miscreants were missing against the Scots, as well as a slew of other first-choice backs for various reasons, but the makeshift group behind the scrum still had much more creativity than the hosts.
McKenzie said the issue wasn’t as big a disruption as it could have been.
“For us we have moved on and it wasn’t a feature of my pre-match address,” he said. “We spoke a lot about Scotland and the detail of that. That issue had nothing to do with how the team was formed.”
Leali’ifano and Laidlaw traded two penalties each in a scrappy opening 23 minutes before Folau ran onto flyhalf Quade Cooper’s inside pass to slip the tackle of prop Ryan Grant and glide over the line in the 26th for his ninth try in 14 tests.
Laidlaw kept Scotland in touch with two more penalties before halftime but Australia pulled away again early in the second half when Folau and Cooper combined to set Feauai-Sautia free on the right. The winger, making only his second international appearance, was brought to ground by a tackle from Sean Maitland but got back up onto his feet and dived over for 18-12.
The Scots relied on their goalkickers to claim stodgy wins over the Wallabies in 2009 and most recently in Newcastle last year, and Laidlaw reduced the deficit with another penalty while Australia lock Rob Simmons was in the sin-bin for throwing a punch.
Leali’ifano wasn’t having the best of days from the kicking tee — he missed five of his nine attempts — but the center’s penalty in the 51st restored the six-point cushion that Australia wasn’t to relinquish despite spirited attacking by Scotland’s pack.
Scotland ends the autumn series with just the win over Japan on the opening weekend, although this performance was a big improvement on the lacklustre 28-0 loss to South Africa on Sunday.
“I can’t quibble with the effort,” coach Scott Johnson said.
“We let ourselves down a bit with out execution, but there’s much to like about what we did. I’m sick of being good losers but there’s character in this team and I’m really impressed with what’s developing.”
Australia finishes its tour with a trip to Cardiff to play Wales.