Scotland fly-half Blair Kinghorn missed a late penalty attempt as Australia came from behind to launch their European tour with a morale-boosting 16-15 win at Murrayfield on Saturday.
Victory ended the Wallabies run of three successive defeats against all opponents and denied Scotland a fourth consecutive triumph over Australia.
Scotland led 15-6 going into the final quarter after Kinghorn, impressive in open play, created a try for fullback Ollie Smith and then scored one himself.
But the match turned Australia’s way when Scotland replacement Glen Young was sin-binned for a dangerous challenge on Australia scrum-half Tate McDermott.
With Scotland a man down, Australia captain James Slipper forced his way over for a converted try before Bernard Foley’s penalty nudged the Wallabies a point in front 10 minutes from time.
Scotland, however, had a chance to win the game at the death only for Kinghorn’s 40-metre penalty effort to sail wide of the left post.
“It was a tough game, it could have gone either way,” Australia coach Dave Rennie told Prime Video Sport.
“It’s massive. It gives us a little bit of confidence.” Scotland, however, would have been ahead at the break had not centre Sione Tuipulotu squandered what seemed a certain try by carelessly knocking-on in sight of Australia’s line.
But for the second match in a row they squandered a lead, having been 15 points ahead against Argentina before suffering a 34-31 defeat in Santiago del Estero in July that sealed a 2-1 series loss to the Pumas.
– ‘Feel it more than anybody’ –
“We’re obviously very disappointed to lose a game, especially when it’s close,” said Scotland coach Gregor Townsend.
“He (Kinghorn) will feel it more than anybody. We’ve got to look at the whole performance, where we had opportunities at the tryline in the first half.” Australia came into this match boosted by the return of former captain Michael Hooper, with the star flanker playing his first Test since withdrawing on the eve of August’s match against Argentina in Mendoza when not in the “right mindset”.
Scotland were only able to select players from home-based teams for a match taking place outside the official Test window That meant they were without English Premiership backs Stuart Hogg and Adam Hastings as well as fly-half Finn Russell, who plays for Paris side Racing 92.
Townsend, however, had already taken the controversial decision to drop Russell from his entire squad for the entire autumn program.
Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie, renowned for his breakdown work, won several important turnovers, one of which helped open the scoring in the 11th minute following a kick into the Wallabies’ 22.
Kinghorn’s cleverly delayed pass to Smith split Australia’s defence, with the fullback then confidently jinking past a couple of defenders.
But Kinghorn missed the conversion and Foley cut Scotland’s lead to 5-3 a few minutes later.
Scotland declined a kickable penalty only for Tuipulotu to drop an excellent cut-out pass from Kinghorn as a try went begging.
The Wallabies’ pressure when Scotland conceded another penalty on the stroke of halftime and Foley made no mistake from 30 metres out.
But Scotland surged ahead early in the second half.
A big hit from Scotland centre Mark Bennett saw the ball spill loose and Kinghorn hacked ahead, sprinting past the cover before the ball bounced kindly into his arms.
The stand-off, having added the conversion, then extended Scotland’s lead with a simple penalty.
Former Australia flanker Jack Dempsey made his Scotland debut off the bench as Townsend rang the changes with 20 minutes left.
But amid the disruption, prop Slipper forced his way over.
Australia centre Hunter Paisami escaped a yellow card late on for a deliberate knock-on but the ensuing penalty helped create the position that led to Kinghorn’s last-gasp kick.
The Wallabies next play Six Nations Grand Slam champions France, the 2023 World Cup hosts, in Paris a week on Saturday, when Scotland are at home to Fiji.
“We’re well aware of the task (France pose) but we’ll go there and give it a crack,” said Rennie.