Scotland 22-23 Australia: Exciting Scots need to build on signs of promise

Jonny Gray
Jonny Gray capped a superb individual display against Australia with a try

In that last half hour at Murrayfield it was hard to take your eyes off the work of Jonny Gray. Impossible, in fact.

Practically everywhere the ball was, Gray was too. As Australia came at Scotland in golden and, eventually, unstoppable waves - 62% of the second half was played in the home team's half - the young second-row led the resistance.

Over the course of 80 minutes, Gray made 24 tackles. No other player in any Test match anywhere in the world on Saturday - England, Wales, Ireland, France, Italy or Georgia - made as many tackles. The only man who came close was his own brother, Richie, who made 23.

Those numbers are extraordinary. Scotland wouldn't want their second-rows having to make a combined 47 tackles because it means the team is under the cosh in a major way. But the stat reflects, in a small sense, how terrific the Grays were against Australia.

Jonny also scored a try while Richie had some involvement in all three of Scotland's scores. The pair of them were world class on the day.

Huw Jones
Huw Jones scored two tries on his Murrayfield debut

Such was the quality of Scotland's defence, you would have been forgiven for dreaming in those closing minutes. If you convinced yourself that the Scots were going to hold out then - and went against the natural instinct that told you otherwise - then it would have been understandable.

From the 50th minute, Australia had mountains of possession and territory but had just three Bernard Foley points to show for it.

Scotland had a nice belligerence about them. There was a hard intensity about John Barclay, a focused and quiet effectiveness about Hamish Watson. Allan Dell and Zander Ferguson, the young props with just a single cap between them before this Test, were doing fine in the scrum and were having an impact in broken field.

The brilliance of Finn Russell, the finishing power of Huw Jones, the authority of Greig Laidlaw and the elan of Stuart Hogg had helped put Scotland into their 22-13 lead and now the heavy-hitters up front were looking like preserving that lead.

They couldn't see it out. One defensive lapse, and how Tevita Kuridrani took advantage of it. Foley's conversion won the match and cast us all back to Twickenham 12 months ago. No controversy this time. No referee scarpering at the full-time whistle. Just a bit of pain at the loss of a match that could - should - have been won.

Hamish Watson
Hamish Watson impressed in his first start for Scotland

There was no victory but if you can't win then there are other things you're looking for from these autumn matches. You want new players to emerge and Jones, Dell and Fagerson delivered hugely encouraging performances.

On Saturday against Argentina and the following Saturday against Georgia, Cotter should be looking for further squad development. Rory Hughes will get a chance. Blair Kinghorn, Damien Hoyland, Jamie Ritchie and Magnus Bradbury are deserving of consideration now.

The autumn is your chance to grow - and Scotland have to grow before the Six Nations.

England are immense right now. Ireland have just beaten the All Blacks for the first time in their history and on Saturday against Canada they gave a debut to eight new players. If we thought Wales were on the slide after their thumping by the Wallabies, they fought back with a hard-earned win against Argentina. France, meanwhile, put 52 points on Samoa.

The autumn Tests are not exactly peacetime games, but they're not war either. The Six Nations is war. The autumn is about confidence-building and squad-deepening and kicking on for the championship stuff in the spring.

Tevita Kuridrani
Tevita Kuridrani's late try broke Scottish hearts

Vern Cotter has a good starting 15 and he has some good options on the bench, but he needs more and these weeks are his chance to have a look at what's out there.

For all the angst at the end at Murrayfield there was a lot to like against the Wallabies. The challenge is building on it. Scotland have had big wins - and agonising near-misses - against the best teams in the world in autumns past, but none of it has brought any semblance of success in the big beast that is the Six Nations.

That remains the true testing ground. Cotter has only one more shot at it before he exits the stage. He'll know that his legacy will be decided in February and March and that everything that happens in November is a preamble.