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The Qantas Wallabies have shown tremendous spirit and depth in a hard fought 21-15, two tries to nil, victory over Scotland in the Hopetoun Cup clash at Murrayfield in Edinburgh early Sunday morning (AEDT).
It was the Wallabies third win in a row on their five-Test Spring Tour after overcoming Italy and Ireland in recent weeks.
As good as the Wallabies were last weekend in the big win over Ireland in Dublin a new look team were just as impressive grinding out a hard fought win with captain Ben Mowen inspirational in a whole-hearted performance.
But Mowen was only one of many outstanding Wallabies on the night with Israel Folau, James Slipper, Stephen Moore, Rob Simmons (despite spending time in the sin-bin), Quade Cooper, Michael Hooper and new call ups Mike Harris and Chris Feauai-Sautia all prominent.
The Wallabies got off to a strong start on a chilly night in Edinburgh, with the temperature hovering at just 6 degrees and the heavy field making open Rugby difficult.
An early penalty to Christian Leali’ifano put Australia up 3-0 after three minutes as both teams threw themselves into some vigorous exchanges at the breakdown.
But the Wallabies were then guilty of giving away a succession of penalties and Scottish scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw landed two penalties to put the home team in front 6-3 after ten minutes.
Leali’ifano then missed a second penalty attempt from 40 metres out while Scotland flyhalf Duncan Weir also missed with a long range attempt.
Good work from backrowers Hooper and Mowen then won Australia breakdown penalties as the Wallabies worked hard to establish some momentum
The go-forward was rewarded on 25 minutes as Australia went ahead with Folau becoming the first Wallabies player to score nine tries in a season in just his first year of international Rugby.
The move was initiated by Mowen who soared high superbly in the lineout to steal a Scottish throw on the home team’s 22.
Scrumhalf Will Genia then threw a long pass to inside centre Harris who continued an impressive start to the match with a strong burst setting up quick ruck ball in the midfield.
From the next ruck Genia found flyhalf Cooper who neatly picked out Folau running a perfect angle. The skillful NSW fullback pushed off Lions prop Ryan Grant and surged over close to Scotland’s posts after an explosive run.
Leali’ifano converted to make it 13-6.
Laidlaw brought it back to 13-12 with two more well struck penalties in the 29th and 35th minutes.
Scotland were almost in front moments later after a superb break from flanker Johnnie Beattie who charged downfield before finding Lions fullback Sean Maitland on the halfway line.
Maitland then found left winger Sean Lamont with a pin-point pass but superb defence from Folau assisted by Mowen, Hooper and prop Slipper stopped the Scottish flyer inches from the line.
Scotland continued to pound the Wallabies line from the resulting breakdowns but committed defence held them at bay before Australia won a relieving turnover.
The Wallabies were under further pressure at the scrum metres out from their line but again the pack held firm, winning a short arm penalty as referee Jaco Peyper blew for half time.
Folau sparked an attack early in the second half after a superb high take and powerful burst but the move broke down when young Reds winger Feauai-Sautia, who turned 20 just last week, became confused about the location of the sideline.
It didn’t matter however as the Wallabies were in for their second try just a minute later.
Again Folau got Australia moving forward with a precise incision before quick ruck ball saw hooker Moore ranging wide, exactly as he had done against Ireland last weekend.
The Brumbies hardman found Cooper who in turn sent a sharp pass to Feauai-Sautia, now backing up on the right wing, with the youngster fighting his way over in the corner for his first try in just his second Test, despite some desperate Scottish defence.
Leali’ifano missed the conversion from wide out but the Wallabies well deserved their lead 18-12 after 42 minutes.
Lock Simmons was then yellow carded after an incident at the breakdown and Laidlaw landed the resulting penalty to bring the score back to 18-15 after 48 minutes.
Leali’ifano restored the lead to six points with a third penalty straight from the kick off before Laidlaw missed with his sixth penalty attempt on 57 minutes.
Coach Ewen McKenzie then went to the bench with Sitaleki Timani on for James Horwill and Ben Alexander on for Sekope Kepu.
Timani immediately made his presence felt winning a penalty at the breakdown but Leali’ifano’s penalty attempt just scraped the left upright to leave the score at 21-15 with twenty minutes left.
Michael Hooper has already won the John Eales medal this year as the Wallabies best player but he confirmed that title with a non-stop performance in the torrid breakdown exchanges.
He won yet another penalty at the breakdown in the 64th minute but again Leali’ifano’s penalty attempt just slipped wide as Nic White came on for Genia.
When Lamont gave up a penalty for running behind Kelly Brown on 75 minutes, Leali’iafno had the opportunity to put the result beyond doubt but the Brumbies centre’s shot again slipped wide, this time to the right.
Force backrower Ben McCalman then came on for the hard working Scott Fardy and Saia Faingaa made his way on for the superb Moore.
Scotland threw everything they had at the Wallabies line in the final minutes but Mowen again soared high to steal a crucial line out ball only metres from the Men of Gold’s line.
Folau was named as the official man of the match but the award really could have gone to half a dozen Wallabies who were brilliant in a hard earned win.
None more than Mowen who capped a true captain’s performance by winning a final breakdown penalty to snuff out a last ditch Scottish attack.
The Wallabies now move on to Cardiff where they meet Six Nation’s champions Wales in a mouth-watering clash next weekend, with only the narrow loss to England in the tour’s opening Test preventing them from a chance at a Grand Slam.
HOPETOUN CUP TEST
FULL TIME SCORE
Qantas Wallabies 21 (Israel Folau, Chris Feauai-Sautia tries; Christian Leali’ifano conversion, 3 penalties) defeated Scotland 15 (Greig Laidlaw 5 penalties) at Murrayfield in Edinburgh. (Half Time: Wallabies 13 Scotland 12) (Referee: Jaco Peyper [South Africa])