Scotland won beautiful. I do not care that the rain was coming across the ground in waves or that Newcastle, New South Wales, was as cold as Gateshead in January. It matters not that the pitch was a slosh pit or that the ball was as slippy as Anthony Blair. Rugby is a game for all seasons and part of its fascination is how much meteorological conditions can change a game.
If Australia had had Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor and a match fit Quade Cooper available and if this match had been played in Gold Coast sunshine, then Scotland would have been jiggered. But it wasn’t. It was played in the wet and the wind and the game was changed.
Suddenly the forward pack becomes twice as important. The pick and drive becomes one of the main methods of progress. The player has to control his trajectory of kick like a golfer in the gale at Muirfield. The hooker’s throwing in skill is magnified (Stepehen Moore trounced Ross Ford is this area). Fly-half has to stand closer to his number nine. Passes need to be more sympathetic. And every point counts double.
Spare me the tired cliché that the weather turned the game into a lottery. It did nothing of the sort. It just meant that Scotland’s inferior outside backs were a lesser factor and their competitive forwards contested the game. Scotland’s second row outdid Australia’s smoky engine room and their triumph was summed up by the winning penalty from the game’s final scrum. The Scottish boys just kept shoving.
Australia were also dim. They had enough field position in the second half to knock over five drop goals but they kept smashing away at the line. There was a touch of arrogance in that, a touch of stupidity and a lack of respect for the conditions. I repeat. Points are worth double.
And when the game was there to be decided, the key moments were not determined by lucky dip, but by skill, power and brains. Mike Harris did not have the ability to change his goalkicking technique to take advantage of the gale at his back to kick the decisive goal.
Stuart Hogg then took a superb mark off a high ball and returned a piercing kick to the halfway line. Harris, oh dear, then kicked the ball dead from his own 10 metre line. And the Scotland scrum stuffed the wilting Aussie pack to earn the winning penalty. Nothing lucky about it.
Some of the Aussie papers whinged and said it was the sort of game that kills rugby as a spectacle. What a tiny world view. Tuesday night’s game was fascinating precisely because of all the different questions it asked of the players. The sooner the IRB brings in a regulation defining rugby as an outdoor sport, the better.
The roof of the Millennium Stadium is a rugby obscenity. When France’s coach asked for it to stay open in the Six Nations Warren Gatland said: “I do not think he cares too much about the type of rugby they play…We all have a responsibility to the broadcasters and the public and the game as a whole to make the game as attractive as possible. I hope that it is not closed on Friday night and then it breaks down and we can’t open it."
Sorry Warren, but attractive rugby is not always ten tries a match as defined in the Super 15. And you did once ask for the roof to be open against Australia. Soccer is the world’s most popular spectator sport precisely because its reduced scoring system makes for a lot of upsets. Sometimes the weather can do the same for rugby and reward heroic defence.
Australia coach Robbie Deans said after the match: ‘’We learnt that we weren’t all on one page. We lack a bit of clarity around our direction in terms of just banking games like that and I guess it’s not in our DNA. It’s an art we’ve got to develop. We had enough possession to put the game out beyond reach. But credit to Scotland. They got one opportunity in the second half and took it. We weren’t accurate enough in closing the game.”
The bit about DNA makes you smile. Deans is a New Zealander and so is Mike Harris, the man who had the chance to win the match. Let’s give Scotland some credit. The scores were tied at 6-6 shortly after half time and Scotland had nearly the entire half to survive against the wind. Their courage, organisation and grasp of the ball and the game were greater than Australia’s. They earned the win by putting Australia in a position to lose.
It was terrific wet weather rugby and a night that will be remembered for many more years than the Super 15’s 70 point try fests of recent weeks. At the victorious end two Scotland players clashed bloody heads like rutting stags. The mob once dubbed Shower of Scotland deserved the moment because they knew how to play in the rain. And it was beautiful to watch.