JOSH STRAUSS admits Scotland have been left sitting in a “dark place” after their heartbreaking World Cup exit.
The Dark Blues pushed Australia close but were ultimately beaten as the Wallabies claimed a narrow 35-34 win.
When Mark Bennett stormed under the posts to score with seven minutes remaining it appeared Vern Cotter’s men were about to clinch a semi-final berth with a famous win.
But Bernard Foley’s last-gasp penalty snatched it away for them and sent the Aussies through to face Argentina in the last four.
However, it was a performance which did Scotland proud and offers hope for the future.
But Glasgow No 8 Strauss said: “We’re all just gutted. I don’t think there is another word to describe the feeling right now. We’re in a very, very dark place after that game.
“That’s understandable because of how well we played. In my opinion we should have won and that’s what makes it so disappointing.
“It was hard looking at the faces of some of the guys who have been in the team for a while. It means so much to them.
“You never want to think your work is done during a match but when Mark scored that was definitely the position we wanted to be in.
“A lot of people didn’t give us a chance but we came so close to doing it.”
Foley’s match-winning kick came in highly contentious circumstances.
A botched Scottish line-out saw the ball knocked forward and it ended up in the hands of offside Scottish forward Jon Welsh - but replays indicated a touch in between from Australia’s Nick Phipps, meaning a scrum rather than a penalty may have been sufficient. South Africa-born Strauss was in amongst the ruck of bodies challenging for the ball but insists he played no part in the drama.
“The ball never touched me but even if it had hit my shoulder, that’s not a knock on,” he stressed. “I don’t make those calls so I don’t know what to say (about the referee). We were obviously disappointed out on the pitch.
“In my view it was a ball that went backwards but it’s not my view that matters unfortunately.
“When we kicked off again we were just fighting to get the ball back. Unfortunately we couldn’t do it.”
Scotland’s form during the tournament could hardly have been different to this year’s RBS Six Nations, where they finished last after a humiliating whitewash of defeats.
But now Strauss reckons Cotter’s swashbuckling side have the talent to win the tournament when they resume action next year.
“It’s important that we build on this,” he said. “It’s been a disappointing time for Scottish rugby over the last couple of years if you look at results.
“But we can hold our heads high after this competition. We have proved what we are about as a team.
“It doesn’t always go your way but the fight to stay in the match there proved our character and we have to build on it.
“There is great young talent coming through and hopefully that will snowball into the Six Nations.
“You want the belief you are going to win every competition you enter and that belief is there in this group.
“Winning is infectious and the better you play the more confidence you build. We have to keep that somehow.”
Meanwhile, Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw was aggrieved by the late penalty which cost his side victory.
Laidlaw said: “They got the TMO for everything else, it’s such a big decision – why would you not get the TMO for that?”
Coach Cotter added: “I’ll need to have another look at it but it’s an important decision.
“I’ll let other people analyse it and I’ll have another look in a quiet moment, without the emotion, and I’ll analyse it then.”
Assessing the defeat as a whole, an emotional Cotter added: “It’s pretty tough.
“The guys played very well, they never let go and fought the whole way, and it’s fine margins isn’t it?
“They put this team, who were favourites for the tournament, under pressure. This will make them better and more confident.
“They did believe throughout the game – and we nearly got there.”
Bernard Foley’s kick was all the more impressive given he had converted only two of Australia’s five tries – two from Drew Mitchell and one apiece from Adam Ashley-Cooper, Michael Hooper and Tevita Kuridrani. Australia coach Michael Cheika bemoaned the nature of Scotland’s three tries but was in no doubt about the penalty decision at the death.
“It’s a penalty and that’s the way it works,” he said. “We gave away a try on a charge-down, and an intercept – and that one through the ruck wasn’t good, we’ve got to block that area.
“All credit to Scotland, it was a great game and we just had to get through it somehow.
“We got the job done, we got five tries and we’ll enjoy moving on against Argentina.”