(Reuters) - Wallabies coach Michael Cheika did not believe the red card shown to Sekope Kepu was a decisive factor in Australia’s record drubbing at the hands of Scotland in their final match of the year.
Prop Kepu was dismissed in the 38th minute of Saturday’s Murrayfield test for a shoulder barge to the head of Scotland’s Hamish Watson with Australia leading 12-10.
The Wallabies ended up losing 53-24, their worst defeat to a northern hemisphere team in more than a century of test rugby, but Cheika was not looking for excuses.
“I don’t think it was the story of the game, I thought we still could have won with 14, to be honest,” he told reporters.
“We came back and started off the second half very well. We just had to keep believing in what we wanted to do, instead we didn’t.
“We had less players and if you throw away the ball that is sort of what is going to happen. It’s unfortunate but definitely not the red card – that happens in matches.
“I don’t think it was a turning point.”
Cheika said he had not had a chance to have a good look at the incident but felt Kepu, who was cleaning out at a ruck, had not intentionally made contact with Watson’s head.
“Referee didn’t have much alternative,” said Cheika. “But the player’s leg goes from underneath him, he slips and goes lower than where Kepu’s aiming.
“(TV pictures will) show that’s where the contact was made, but I don’t think there’s any intent for Kepu to go there.”
The defeat, the second at the hands of the resurgent Scots this year, came on the back of a 30-6 loss to England last week, which was also a record reverse.
Australia will finish the year with a record of seven wins, including one against the All Blacks, five losses and the two draws against South Africa in the Rugby Championship.
Cheika, who has handed out more than two dozen test debuts over the two years since the last World Cup, said he felt his team were on the right trajectory.
“I’m really proud of the team,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald. “I know it didn’t go well for us today.
“We just need to take that extra little step of maturity and we did a lot of good things this season despite what some of you guys think in particular.”
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Amlan Chakraborty