Fly-half Bernard Foley struck a last-ditch penalty just 30 seconds from the end to clinch Australia a 35-34 victory over Scotland in a Twickenham quarter-final awash with eight tries, drama and controversy.
With his team trailing 34-32 after an interception try from Scotland centre Mark Bennett in the 73rd minute, Foley snatched victory for the Wallabies who scored five tries to Scotland’s three to make the semi-finals an all-southern hemisphere affair for the first time in the history of the World Cup. Australia will take on Argentina in the last four, while New Zealand meet South Africa.
The game ended in controversy with South African referee Craig Joubert awarding the decisive penalty for offside in open play, with TV replays suggesting it may have been the wrong call.
The crowd, however, witnessed the most dramatic game of the tournament so far as the Wallabies moved towards the last four with two tries from wing Drew Mitchell and touchdowns from Adam Ashley-Cooper, flanker Michael Hooper and centre Tevita Kuridrani. Foley missed three conversions but still put over 10 points with the boot.
Scotland went desperately close to their first victory over one of the southern hemisphere powerhouses in the World Cup with centre Peter Horne and wing Tommy Seymour scoring their other tries and captain Greig Laidlaw continuing his superb kicking form with 19 points.
“At this moment in time it is hard to talk. It is a pretty upset dressing room, as you can imagine,” Laidlaw said. “We were one kick away from the semi-final and arguably we should have been.”
Australia took the game straight to Scotland from the start, scoring their first try as early as the ninth minute after Seymour missed a tackle on Kuridrani, who slipped the ball outside for Ashley-Cooper to score near the right-hand corner. The Wallabies looked strong in the early stages but gradually Scotland began to upset their composure by playing unpredictable rugby.
After Laidlaw had slotted over his first penalty, Horne scored a cheeky try, picking the ball up at the base of a ruck seven metres out and running straight to the line to touch down in the 18th minute.
Australia recovered with two ties before the break from Mitchell and Hooper, both the result of dominant forward play. Mitchell dived in near the left-hand corner after the Wallabies had battered through the Scottish defence with multi-phase rugby, while Hooper crashed over after the forwards drove from the back of the lineout.
But while Foley missed all three conversions, Laidlaw’s 11 points from the boot gave the Scots a slim but deserved 16-15 half-time lead.
The Scots lost their lead right at the start of the second half when wing Sean Maitland was sent to the sin bin for deliberately knocking on when the Wallabies were close to scoring. The Australians immediately ran the ball to the left-hand corner, where Maitland was missing, and Mitchell grabbed his second try.
A Foley penalty helped the Wallabies to build a 25-19 lead after 55 minutes, but just four minutes later the Scots grabbed a second try when fly-half Finn Russell charged down a kick from Foley in the Australia 22. Russell sprinted 10 metres before he was tackled but managed to pop a pass up to Seymour to touch down.
The Wallaby lead was just 25-24. They seemed to have wrapped up the game in the 64th minute when Kuridrani drove in from close range and Foley converted to stretch their lead to 32-24 at the start of the final quarter.
But a fifth Laidlaw penalty kept the Scots in contention at 32-27 down and, with the rain pouring down and a Murrayfield-like roar from the 77,000 crowd urging them on, Scotland looked poised to make history when Bennett sprinted 30 metres after intercepting a pass from replacement James Slipper to score. But the late drama put an end to that dream.
Wallaby coach Michael Cheika praised his side for not giving up on the game.
“Usually if you kick a goal at the end of the game to win, it’s a pretty good escape. Saying that, if you score five tries, then you expect to be near the winning side. Maybe we shouldn’t have opened it up for them but we wanted to play to our identity which is to play running footy.”
“When the goal went over for Scotland, many teams would have thought ‘let’s go home, we have had a good run’. I just liked the way we got back into the game any way we could.”
- World Rugby