Scotland had one foot in the last four of the Rugby World Cup with four minutes left but were hauled back by a late penalty that lifted Australia to a narrow 35-35 in a thrilling quarter-final at Twickenham.
The Australian fly-half Bernard Foley, who had a kick charged down for a try and a pass intercepted for another by Mark Bennett with just four minutes left, finally held his nerve after a series of misses with the rain pouring down with just a minute and a half remaining.
The Scots couldn’t defend a lineout deep in their own territory as they tried to close the match out with referee Craig Joubert who sprinted from the pitch at no-side spotting that a Scot had handled the ball after it had been fumbled at the back.
It was a marginal sort of decision accidental offside might have been a fairer call and an extraordinary cruel way for the Scots to lose a match which they seemed to have snatched from the Wallabies just minutes before.
The Australians scored five tries in all but Greig Laidlaw’s five penalties and the three tries from Peter Horne, Tommy Seymour and Bennett meant the Scots were never out of reach, even when a man down to a brutally harsh yellow card for Sean Maitland early in the second half.
The Scots had earlier opted to recall Jonny Gray and Ross Ford after their reprieve from a three-week suspension at an appeal hearing on Saturday, and both were in the team that faced a confident Wallaby side.
Scotland certainly came to play, although they were initially fortunate inside five minutes when Foley tried an off-load when he might have reached for the line and the ball didn’t go to hand.
The opening score was only delayed briefly, however, when Foley’s offload to Kuridrani drew Seymour out of the line, but the wing missed the tackle and the Wallaby centre put in Adam Ashley-Cooper for an easy try, Foley missing the conversion.
But Scotland ‘s response was quick and impressive, and on their first attacking possession brought reward with a neat combination involving all of the back row, Australia killing the ball and Laidlaw kicking his team on to the scoreboard with an easy penalty.
Better was to come in 18 minutes after Denton made inroads on three separate carries and Ford then smashed towards the line. Somehow the Wallabies didn’t post a guard behind the resultant ruck and the quick-witted Horne nipped through untouched for the try, Laidlaw converting.
The skipper then booted a penalty after Australia were driven back at a scrum with the Twickenham crowd going crazy.
It could have been much better for Scotland when Australia were much too loose running back a kick on halfway, an off-load went into Russell’s hands but Bennett couldn’t hold his flick pass with no-one in front of him.
A penalty on halfway gave Australia the platform for their next attack on the half-hour, and despite some fearsome hits from the Scots they worked space for Drew Mitchell to score wide on the left, but again it went unconverted.
Laidlaw kicked Scotland back to 16-10 as the Wallaby scrum again came under pressure, but just before the break a holding-on penalty by Nel in attack allowed the Australians good field position again.
Two powerful mauls eventually saw Hooper squeeze over under a blanket of yellow shirts but again Foley couldn’t convert and the Scots had a 16-15 advantage at the break.
The Scots got the worse possible start to the second half when inside two minutes Sean Maitland reached for a possible interception and couldn’t hold on, but was yellow carded for an intentional knock on.
Australia immediately capitalised with a lineout drive and spun it out to the absent Maitland’s wing, Mitchell sliding in for his second try, and Foley finally landed a conversion.
Scotland hit back immediately with a Laidlaw penalty, but it seemed as if Australia had stretched away when Ashley-Cooper went in at the corner but it was called back for a knock-on.
Foley struck a long penalty to give Australia some space, but the fly-half then tried a risky kick from his own 22, Russell charged it down and fed Seymour for an unconverted try.
Australia then pinched a Scottish lineout with 15 minutes left, and Tevita Kuridrani scored after phases close to the line, Foley converting before Laidlaw pegged them back with another penalty.
Then with six minutes left it was bedlam at Twickenham as the rain started to teem down and Foley tried a delayed pass out of his own 22, Bennett stepping in to intercept and race under the posts, Laidlaw’s conversion giving Scotland at 34-32 lead.
Just as the Scottish crowd dared to dream, however, their team had to defend one more lineout and a poor throw led to the offside penalty that Foley kicked to cruelly deny the them their place in the last four.
Scotland: S Hogg; S Maitland, M Bennett, P Horne (R Vernon 72), T Seymour (S Lamont 63); F Russell, G Laidlaw (capt); A Dickinson (G Reid 48), R Ford (F Brown 54), WP Nel (J Welsh 76); J Gray (T Swinson 67), R Gray; B Cowan (J Strauss 67), J Hardie, D Denton.
Reps: J Welsh, T Swinson, J Strauss, H Pyrgos, R Vernon, S Lamont.
Australia: K Beale; A Ashley-Cooper, T Kuridrani, M Giteau, D Mitchell; B Foley, W Genia (N Phipps 71); S Sio (J Slipper 51), S Moore (capt, T Polota-Nau 62), S Kepu; K Douglas, R Simmons (D Mumm 66); S Fardy, M Hooper, B McCalman.
Reps: T Polota-Nau, J Slipper, G Holmes, D Mumm, S McMahon, N Phipps, M Toomua, Q Cooper.
Ref: C Joubert (SA)