Australia favored, Scotland spoiling for a World Cup upset
LONDON (AP) It was an historic upset on a bitter night of driving rain and a gale, as good a setting as there could be for a Scottish rugby folklore tale.
Australia captain Stephen Moore remembers the conditions as being the worst he’s ever played in. Wallabies veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper saw the entire game from the bench – and said it was just as hard watching.
Final score in that 2012 test in Newcastle, north of Sydney: Scotland 9, Australia 6.
David Pocock was Australia captain that night, when Scotland scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw clinched it with a stoppage-time penalty after an errant Australian scrum. Pocock won’t be playing against Scotland on Sunday after he and rampaging fullback Israel Folau were ruled out with injuries, replaced by Ben McCalman and Kurtley Beale.
So after dominating the toughest group in the tournament and grinding out back-to-back wins over England and Wales, the Wallabies could be slightly vulnerable against a Scotland team that was angered by the suspensions of veteran hooker Ross Ford and lock Jonny Gray, the pair cited by an Australian commissioner for a dangerous tackle in their last game against Samoa.
Center Matt Scott was ruled out Friday with an injured back, forcing another change for Scotland.
”Do we need to come out fighting after losing the three guys? We’d need to come out fighting regardless,” Scotland skipper Laidlaw said. ”We’re in the quarters on merit and deserve our place – we’re not just here to make up the numbers.”
Australia has won 19 of the 28 tests between the nations, including a 33-16 victory in 2003 quarterfinals -the only time the teams have met at the World Cup.
For a reminder of the threat Scotland can pose, the two-time champion Australians don’t have to go back far in time.
Scotland ended a 27-year drought against the Wallabies with a 9-8 victory in Edinburgh in 2009. The Scots won the next game, too, on that wild, wet and windy night in 2012, its first victory in three decades on Australian soil.
Hooker Moore wants to make amends. He and center Matt Giteau were selected to make their 100th test appearances for the Wallabies on Sunday, and Ashley-Cooper will move to No. 3 on Australia’s all-time list of test caps when he runs out for the 112th time.
Cheika said he didn’t look at his lineup in terms of test caps, but focused instead on character. He said he was content with the ”the combination of characters” he’d selected.
He also rejected the idea that Australia could become complacent being an odds-on favorite against Scotland, which didn’t win a game in the Six Nations and struggled to hold off Tier Two Samoa 36-33 in its last match.
”It’s pretty easy – we don’t think we are (complacent),” Cheika said, referencing the start of his Wallabies coaching tenure that included losses to France, Ireland and England last November, when the Wallabies were all but written off as World Cup contenders. ”No one was saying that about us however many months ago.
”We’re acutely aware of the fact this (quarterfinal) is really important in our own journey as a team.”
Giteau, who was on the bench in the 2003 quarterfinal against Scotland and missed a late conversion attempt that could have won the ’09 match at Murrayfield, was excluded from the Wallabies set up for four years until he returned under Cheika this season and cemented his spot at inside center. His return, along with Pocock, has helped propel Australia back into Cup calculations.
Ashley-Cooper, the 31-year-old utility back who made his debut in 2005, said he welcomed Moore and Giteau into the 100 club but didn’t see any need to brief them on the significance of the occasion.
”Scotland are going to turn up and want to play for their country, play for their people,” he said. ”You can never underestimate that kind of passion.”
Laidlaw has a taste for victory against Australia, and said the Scottish players have put the absence of Ford and Gray and Scott behind them.
”We’ve beaten Australia before,” Laidlaw said. ”Australia is probably the best in the tournament so far, and we are looking to end that on Sunday.”