Firstly, what a game this was. Two teams battling it out for a coveted Semi Final spot against a rampant Argentina team who had won earlier in the day, everything on the line, everything to play for. Everyone was on the edge of their seats throughout, testament to the endeavours of each side until the final whistle.
The build-up in the week had been all about the players missing for both teams. Megastars David Pocock and Israel Folau were ruled out for Australia through injury early in the week, although the return of Michael Hooper from his suspension was certainly welcomed by his side. The bigger talking point, however, was the absence of Jonny Gray and Ross Ford for the Scots, who had been suspended in the previous game against Samoa for what was deemed to be a tip-tackle. The press were scrutinising the decision with the original three week ban causing much debate. After an appeal from the Scottish management, and an eleventh hour decision from World Rugby to rescind their bans, the question was then whether or not they would start or even play a part at all; fortunately for Scotland, they both did, and they both played incredibly well.
Whilst the game may have finished with a winning kick at the death, the stats do not lie, and the story they tell is rather a compelling examination of a team dominating a match but failing to fully take it by the scruff of the neck. There are various reasons for this, including the kicking of both teams and equally so, the mistakes, especially those from Australia. Obviously referee Craig Joubert also played a part in the final outcome.
As I have already mentioned, Australia had the rule of the roost for most of this game; they controlled a greater amount possession at 55% and also dominated the territorial battle, with a 62% share. Figures like these suggest that they should have had an easy progression through to the semi final, not to mention the fact that they made almost half as many tackles as Scotland, conceded less penalties and scored five tries. Scotland, whilst they put in a fine performance, and can certainly feel aggrieved that they let this game slip through their grasp, were living off scraps for most of the game. Peter Horne's try was a simple case of poor fringe defence, and Mark Bennett's interception came from a Prop in midfield who was caught in two minds and ultimately made the wrong decision. The sin binning of Sean Maitland, harshly in my view, also hampered them at a time when they could have lain down a marker and put Australia under pressure moments after half time and with a 16-15 lead. In fact, as the rain began to pour with around eight minutes left on the clock, many Scottish fans may have considered this a good omen, which was certainly helped by Bennett's interception score and the following conversion that put them in the lead with only a few minutes left.
Ultimately the reason that Scotland were in the game, and in fact took the lead after the Mark Bennett try, was due to the place kicking of both sides. Bernard Foley has ever been criticised for his lack of goal kicking prowess, but up to this point in the tournament he had largely been successful; perhaps we can just put it down to an off day, but it definitely put his sides chances of victory under pressure. Greg Laidlaw on the other hand slotted five of the six penalties his side won, along with two conversions. Albeit Scotland could only have added two points to their final total, Australia could have been several points clear at this point and perhaps be playing a different game plan and nullify the Scottish threat sooner.
I won't go into too much detail about this now, as we will no doubt have a more thorough article written once the facts have come out, but the performance of Craig Joubert has been more than brought into question, with accusations and speculation flying around in the media. Unfortunately for Scotland fans, I feel that whilst the decision at the end of the game provided Australia with their opportunity to win, Joubert made the judgement call from his angle that adhered to law 11.7 - that a player of the same team who fields the ball in front of a teammate who has knocked on will be deemed offside. If this was called in a game I was playing, I would have no right to complain, especially in the sea of hands that the Joubert was confronted with. Many argue that he should have brought the TMO into play, but unfortunately, as this was not dangerous play or preventing a try, in accordance with the law Joubert could not do so. With hindsight and replays it is clear that Nick Phipps, Australia's replacement scrum half did indeed 'play' the ball after the knock-on, which should have ended Australia's advantage with them being awarded the scrum. World Rugby have not helped matters by appearing to throw Joubert under the bus by announcing that his decision was indeed incorrect - as ever, the benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing. However, even before this occurred, Stuart Hogg, the Scottish fullback, was taken out late after a clearing kick, and once again Joubert did not ask the TMO for guidance. This should have been a penalty to Scotland and the lifeline they needed to clear their lines followed by regaining possession from the resulting lineout.
The most controversial element of Joubert's performance was obviously his apparent flee from the field, however, I feel that, unlike some ex-professionals and media personas, we should refrain from making completely unjustified and speculative comments regarding this until we have heard the full story; be this from the man himself, or World Rugby. Until then, it would seem to be rather unfair to hurl opinions around, especially if he had indeed been hit by a case of bad timing regarding lavatory matters.
This does not take away from the fact that Scotland had essentially 'done an England.' A lineout in the closing minutes with the game on the line, which they failed to control, with the result being possession returning to the opposition. There were many what-ifs at the end of this game, but ultimately, Scotland are unfortunately out of this year's tournament, with Australia progressing for an exciting semi final against the Pumas.