The Wallabies conceded their biggest score against Scotland on Sunday morning (AEDT).
What are we talking about after their 2017 finale?
1. A grim finish to a rollercoaster year
It’s been a long year for Australian rugby and the Wallabies will have the taste of a final defeat in their mouths for the next six months, after losing to Scotland. A man down from the 40th minute put the Wallabies in a terrible spot, leaving them with only the opportunity to show the resilience they talked about building. They looked like doing just that when Kurtley Beale scored in the 43rd minute to draw 17-17 but Scotland piled on the points to put any against-the-odds victory to bed. Australia takes a 7-2-5 record from this season and there were positives among those, but a record defeat at the Scots’ hands will now be the disappointing full stop to one of Australian rugby’s most tumultuous years on and off the field.
2. Two steps forward, one step back
🔴 RED CARD!! An early exit for @SekopeKepu, and he can't really argue about the decision. @qantaswallabies down to 14 for the rest of this match! 10-12 | Watch LIVE on beIN 3 and CONNECT https://t.co/taTmHcaQG8 #SCOvAUS pic.twitter.com/vFj3tAYgmU— beIN SPORTS (@beINSPORTS_AUS) November 25, 2017
Momentum is a funny thing in sport and it swung wildly for the Wallabies on Saturday afternoon. After finally wrestling the advantage back from Scotland, with superb work off the boot from Bernard Foley putting Tevita Kuridrani over twice in three minutes, Sekope Kepu undid all their hard work, with a reckless no-arms charge. It didn’t take long for the referee and TMO to determine Kepu’s cleanout on flanker Hamish Watson was a shoulder to the head, with speed and force, and thus a send-off. It was a frustrating, and unnecessary, moment for fans watching on, the game all but over after that.
3. Murrayfield’s nice touch for Moore
This was no fairytale ending for Stephen Moore, the 129-Test veteran watching on as the ‘Flower of Scotland’ was bellowed out at Murrayfield, after his final professional rugby effort, but there was one glimmer of light on a dark day. Moore was replaced in the 60th minute by Tatafu Polota-Nau, and a switched-on crowd took the moment to give the former Wallabies skipper a standing ovation after his last appearance. It was a classy moment from an audience that could very well have let Moore just slip into the Scotland night. The players echoed that sentiment post-match, with Scotland forming a guard of honour for Moore.
4. North vs South come a long way
Two years ago, punters were decrying the demise of Northern Hemisphere rugby, with four Southern Hemisphere nations in the World Cup semi-finals. Fast forward two years and no one’s complaining above the equator. England has re-established itself as a world rugby force, while Scotland has now beaten Australia twice in six months and pushed New Zealand all the way. The British and Irish Lions showed the best of the north were more than a match for the All Blacks, and Ireland has continued to build in its Autumn Internationals. Scotland dealt with adversity on Saturday too, fullback Stuart Hogg ruled out in the warmup, but their depth shone through, with the starting replacement Byron McGuigan man of the match.
5. World Cup still the end goal
Let’s finish the year with a little bit of perspective, after one of the lowest ebbs of the Wallabies’ season at Murrayfield. This Australia side were without Israel Folau, Adam Coleman, Dane Haylett-Petty, Sefa Naivalu, Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda, Ned Hanigan and Jack Dempsey to name a few. While not all of those are world-class, the weight of absentees shows in a game like Sunday’s. At the halfway point of the 2019 Rugby World Cup cycle, Australia has had 27 debutants since the 2015 World Cup, one more than at the same time in the previous cycle, with all but three (Nick Frisby, Leroy Houston and Eto Nabuli) really stamping themselves in Test rugby. There can’t be excuses for results like the Murrayfield game, but the challenge Australia faces now is to show its provinces are strong in Super Rugby and start with a clean slate come February.