Bernard Foley sinks Scotland the brave with last minute penalty

Vern Cotter’s side moments from famous win but the Wallabies edge quarter-final

Australia 35 Scotland 34

Almost every game at this World Cup has provided some memorable thrills and spills but this was up there with the most gripping of all. Australia are into the semi-finals of the World Cup but only by virtue of a last-minute penalty kicked by Bernard Foley with Twickenham temporarily transformed into a noisy highland cathedral.

For a moment it had seemed as if the supposedly impossible was about to happen, Mark Bennett having intercepted a loose pass from the Wallaby replacement James Slipper to score under the posts with six minutes left. Greig Laidlaw's conversion put them 34-32 ahead to leave the whole world asking the same question: Could they hold on? The answer, ultimately, was no but no one could accuse them of letting down the sagging northern hemisphere.

On a normal day Australia would probably have won with something to spare but the absence of David Pocock and Israel Folau gave Scotland a foothold even after Tevita Kuridrani's 65th minute try, his side's fifth of the day, had put his side 32-24 ahead of the persevering boys in blue. After Bennett's try, with rain sweeping across the ground, they had five minutes to hold out but a greasy ball was fumbled, the replacement prop Jon Welsh grabbed it while standing in an offside position, and the nerveless Foley did the rest, securing the Wallabies a semifinal against Argentina next Sunday.


Tartan confidence was not exactly rife before kick-off, given there have been as many Scottish Test victories in south-west London in the professional era as sightings of the Loch Ness monster in the river Thames. With Stephen Moore and Matt Giteau winning their 100th caps for Australia and the weather set fair, it was always going to require something special to subdue the Wallaby threat and there was nothing initially to suggest it would materialise. Scotland did have Jonny Gray and Ross Ford back in their starting lineup after their suspensions were belatedly overturned but there was still a collective air of uncertainty.

One or two blue-shirted players seemed taken aback by the scale of the occasion as Australia whipped purposefully through their practised routine of swift recycling and clever running lines. It was no surprise to anyone in the stadium when Kuridrani broke clear of an ill-judged Tommy Seymour tackle and sent Adam Ashley-Cooper diving into the right corner.

There has already been signs, however, of Australia getting slightly ahead of themselves. Foley should have either scored himself or held on to the ball rather than attempting a fanciful offload to Mitchell with the line yawning. At the other end WP Nel was making some inroads into the Wallaby scrummage and Laidlaw duly kicked his side back into the contest when Scott Fardy was rightly penalised for cynically halting a promising Scottish attack.

Then came the moment that, for a brief moment, made it feel as if the Hampden roar had been exported south to the home of English rugby. Scotland established a platform in the Wallaby 22 and, with defenders fanning out either side of the ruck, Peter Horne nipped through the middle untouched to score. It was only the third try the Wallabies had conceded in five games at this tournament.

Laidlaw’s conversion and another scrum penalty stretched the lead to 13-5, more than enough to test Australia’s nerve. Remarkably the Wallabies had only lost one previous World Cup game in the northern hemisphere in their history, against England in the 2007 quarter-final, and an increasingly upbeat Scotland was not what the flying doctor had ordered.

Rugby is not a game that wraps reputations in cotton wool and no one reaches the last four of a World Cup without a scare or two along the way. Australia, though, are proving a resourceful bunch and two tries in 10 minutes immediately before half-time reduced the margin to a single point. First sure hands worked Mitchell over in the left corner and Michael Hooper then finished off a forward drive to drag his side further back into it.

The third quarter was always going to be crucial so it came as a sizeable blow when Sean Maitland was sent to the sin-bin for a supposedly deliberate knock-on that the referee Craig Joubert initially seemed to regard as a simple knock-on. Australia are consistently switched on in such circumstances and, sure enough, the ball was swiftly worked back out to Scotland's unguarded left flank for Mitchell to score his second and Australia's fourth.

Foley, having missed his first three conversion attempts, finally landed one from the touchline and it appeared to be going badly wrong for the Scots when Beale worked another overlap to put Ashley-Cooper over again. Luckily for Cotter’s team it was ruled out for a knock-on at the final ruck but a subsequent Foley penalty gave Australia a six-point cushion entering the final quarter.

It was anything but over. Russell’s charge-down of Foley’s kick transformed the momentum of the game again, Seymour squeezing over on the left after a wonderful tackle by Will Genia had stopped Russell but failed to snuff out the move. It was merely the prelude to an even more dramatic final reel, with Foley having the final say.

Australia: Tries: Ashley-Cooper, Mitchell 2, Hooper, Kuridrani. Cons: Foley 2. Pens: Foley 2.

Scotland: Tries: Horne, Seymour, Bennett. Cons: Laidlaw 2. Pens: Laidlaw 5.

Australia: Beale, Ashley-Cooper, Kuridrani, Giteau, Mitchell, Foley, Genia, Sio, Moore, Kepu, Douglas, Simmons, Fardy, Hooper, McCalman. Replacements: Phipps for Genia (71), Slipper for Sio (50), Polota-Nau for Moore (62), Holmes for Kepu (54), Mumm for Simmons (65). Not Used: McMahon, Toomua, Cooper.

Scotland: Hogg, Maitland, Bennett, Horne, Seymour, Russell, Laidlaw, Dickinson, Ford, Nel, R. Gray, J. Gray, Cowan, Hardie, Denton. Replacements: Vernon for Horne (71), Lamont for Seymour (63), Reid for Dickinson (47), Brown for Ford (54), Welsh for Nel (75), Swinson for J. Gray (67), Strauss for Cowan (67). Not Used: Pyrgos. Sin Bin: Maitland (42). Att: 77,110 Ref: Craig Joubert (South Africa).

(Guardian service)