THE 15 players who take to the field for Scotland against Australia in tomorrow’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final do not really need anyone explaining to them the enormity of such an occasion.
However, if any require a little reminder of just how important it will be to seize every single moment during the 80 minutes ahead at Twickenham, they would do well to listen to the words of Yorkshire Carnegie head coach Bryan Redpath.
He, of course, was Scotland captain the last time his country faced the Wallabies at this stage of the sport’s biggest tournament in 2003.
Back then, in Brisbane, they had the star-studded hosts nervous at half-time, with the fiercely-contested game level at 9-9.
Yet just prior to that they had seen an opportunity to score a potentially vital try when Kenny Logan chased Gregor Townsend’s long kick, but it was ruled out by the referee and eventually Sir Ian McGeechan’s side fell 33-16 to the holders.
Redpath, the scrum-half who was playing the final of his 60 Tests that night, recalled: “Hinesy (Scotland lock Nathan Hines) got caught up in a scrap with Wendall Sailor and the game got pulled back for that.
“I remember thinking then that we could have been ahead at half-time if that hadn’t have happened.
“Instead, they scored first in the second half and got a bit clear of us which was a blow.
“Ultimately those will be the margins (on Sunday); one or two decisions like that.
“Soon you’re 12 points down and it’s hard to claw back.
“Ten’s almost achievable but 12… you need to score twice.
“It became hard for me to convince everyone that we were still in the game.
“If you have set-piece parity you’re alright and I think Scotland will have that on Sunday even though Australia have improved with Mario (Ledesma) coming in (as scrum coach).
“I played with him at Narbonne and he’s a top, top bloke. He’ll buy into their culture and improve their set-piece stuff no end.
“But I’m looking forward to this game and I do think it will be closer than most people think.”
Scotland, for all their underdog status and absenteeism due to the controversial suspensions of Ross Ford and Jonny Gray, should feel positive given their recent record against these opponents.
Granted, they may have lost 16 successive Tests against the Wallabies from 1982 to 2006 but they have emerged victorious in two of their last three encounters, winning 9-8 at Murrayfield in 2009 and, similarly, 9-6 in New South Wales three years later.
Having crucially edged past Samoa in their epic 36-33 pool victory to seal a last eight spot, they have a rare window of opportunity now even if Australia – winners of the infamous Group of Death after impressively toppling both England and Wales – are understandably favourites, especially after their recent discovery of how to scrummage courtesy of former Argentina hooker Ledesma’s knowledgeable input. Redpath, 44, feels they do have some stellar quality, not least young fly-half Finn Russell.
“They have come a long way and again, talking to Nathan Hines (now Scotland assistant coach), he says Russell’s been the most impressive player that he has seen for a long time in the position for Scotland,” he said.
“I know he has a lot of dog in him as he was playing in that position for Ayr just two and a half years ago in Division Two.
“But there’s a lot of character in this Scotland side.
“It it tough on them with those suspensions from the Samoa game – they seem really harsh but I guess the World Cup has had some of those grey areas and there’s no point feeling sorry for themselves. They have to get on with it.”
Some would say there is no pressure on Scotland but Redpath argued: “I don’t think they can go into a game thinking like that. They know how tough it’s going to be.
“(But) Australia have had two cup finals already. They had that massive game against England and a massive game against Wales and they will need three more massive games to win the World Cup.
“In some ways Scotland have never really been looked at in that way and they have nothing to lose against Australia. I’d love to see them pull another big win off.”
Looking back on ‘03, he added: “It was not just my last game but Kenny Logan’s, too, and McGeechan and (Jim) Telfer’s last so there was a lot of emotion.
“George Gregan and Stephen Larkham were great at just keeping the ball. I was chasing, chasing, chasing but they were two of the best half-backs around.”