Scotland V New Zealand
Another tale of so near and yet so far... and there have been a few in the 109-year history of matches between Scotland and New Zealand from a home perspective.
We can lament the one that got away at BT Murrayfield this afternoon in front of an energised crowd of 66,004 but we must also acknowledge a performance over-flowing in resolve and bravery from Vern Cotter’s charges.
Looking at the record books, there have been previous, recent episodes in the 30 matches between the nations where Scotland, even on home soil, have been on the receiving end of some fearful howkings.
Today, in spite of an error count that was frustrating, and coming out on the wrong side of the penalty count, especially at scrums, Scotland worked furiously in defence and, for so long in the game, denied New Zealand the go-forward that seems to be part of their DNA.
They also got their own lineout purring very effectively and asked questions of the visitors that have not always been forthcoming in the past.
Jonny Gray and Rob Harley put in a tireless shift and with captain Greig Laidlaw continuing to prompt Scotland to be positive – even when deep in their own 22 – there was much to hearten Scotland supporters from tonight’s display.
Cotter told scottishrugby.org: “I feel for the players. We always knew this game was going to give us something and we have a lot of good things in the game to take away.
The players’ effort, desire and determination on the field – as a coach you can’t ask for anything more than that.”- Head coach Vern Cotter
Perhaps it was an omen of what was to follow but the home faithful were in good early voice, continuing a chorus of Loch Lomond as the habitual New Zealand haka got underway.
Scotland dominated the initial exchanges with the first two scrums ending with penalties to each team for collapses, though thereafter, French referee Romain Poite, concluded, more often than not that it was Scotland who were guilty of scrum malpractice.
Richie Gray pouched a stray ball in the seventh minute and was penalised for not releasing but Dan Carter miscued the relatively straight-forward attempt.
The visitors posted the first points as Victor Vito exploited a missed tackle by Alex Dunbar in space on the left to surge over through the joint tackle of Laidlaw and Stuart Hogg for a try duly confirmed by TMO Gareth Simmonds. Carter missed the conversion.
That man Seymour...
Scotland hit back at once. New Zealand were building and Richie McCaw sought to thread a pass to Vito. On it in a flash was Tommy Seymour who blazed away from 40 meters for an interception try – his fifth for Scotland and second in successive weeks. Laidlaw’s conversion gave Scotland the lead, as Mark Bennett was helped off with a hamstring injury to be replaced by Sean Lamont.
Finn Russell, who seems to rather enjoy the whole international stage, had already made one pulverizing tackle and another, this time on Carter, forced a New Zealand mistake.
Into the second quarter and Russell’s attempted clearance was charged down and Scotland had to scramble frantically to repel a Kiwi attack. TMO Simmonds was asked to adjudicate afresh but amid a jumble of arms and legs could not see a clear grounding from scrum-half T J Perenara.
Back for a penalty to New Zealand though and Carter found his range to give the visitors a one-point lead after his two abortive early strikes.
Russell returned from the HIA protocol, which had seen Duncan Weir on for six minutes, but an accumulation of errors and another injury – this time Euan Murray departing with a groin problem – was disrupting Scotland’s rhythm.
But there was once again character aplenty from Scotland, as, with pressure being applied to the visitors’ lineout – and Jonny Gray charging down an attempted clearance from Perenara – Laidlaw narrowed the gap to one point with his first penalty at goal for a side entry offence.
On the stroke of half-time, however, referee Poite adjudged Scotland were at fault as a scrum hit the turf and Carter bolstered the Kiwi lead.
Half time: Scotland 10-14 New Zealand
Another Seymour interception – clutching the ball out of the grasp of substitute Liam Messam – and Stuart Hogg at full tilt, set up an offside penalty for Laidlaw who popped it over (13-14, 46 mins).
Scotland sought to counter from deep in their own 22 as the game ticked into the last quarter but another scrum penalty enabled Colin Slade to claim New Zealand’s first points of the half as he took over the kicking duties from Carter who had been subbed as New Zealand introduced their A-list backs from the bench (13-17, 65 mins).
From the kick-off New Zealand gathered and moved the ball to midfield where they were guilty of not releasing and courtesy of the admirable Laidlaw we were back to a one-point game (16-17, 66 mins).
A golden chance...
The crowd were so engaged now and when Sean Lamont cut back on the narrow side and New Zealand were so lazy in their retreat, that they were caught offside, a chance beckoned to go for the jugular.
Laidlaw, however, pushed the kick across the posts. Was that Scotland’s golden opportunity gone?
It appeared so, as down the other end, Jeremy Thrush took a line close to a goal-line ruck to crash through the remnants of Scotland’s defence for the Kiwis’ second try after Julian Savea had threatened to unleash all kinds of mayhem in the build-up. Slade converted (16-24, 73mins).
Scotland, remained bold until no-side but could not claw back the lead.
Full-time: Scotland (10) 16-24 (14) New Zealand
Scotland: Stuart Hogg; Sean Maitland, Mark Bennett, Alex Dunbar, Tommy Seymour; Finn Russell (all Glasgow Warriors), Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester Rugby) CAPTAIN; Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford (both Edinburgh Rugby), Euan Murray (Glasgow Warriors), Richie Gray (Castres), Jonny Gray, Robert Harley (both Glasgow Warriors), Blair Cowan (London Irish), Adam Ashe (Glasgow Warriors). Substitutes: Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors) for Ford (74mins), Gordon Reid (Glasgow Warriors) for Dickinson (77 mins), Geoff Cross (London Irish) for Murray (30 mins), David Denton (Edinburgh Rugby) for Cowan (72mins), Johnnie Beattie (Castres) for Ashe (57 mins), Chris Cusiter (Sale Sharks) for Laidlaw (74 mins), Duncan Weir (Glasgow Warriors) for Russell (25-31 mins then 60 miins), Sean Lamont (Glasgow Warriors) for Bennett (13 mins).
New Zealand: Ben Smith; Colin Slade, Fekitoa Malakai, Ryan Crotty, Charles Piutau; Dan Carter, T J Perenara; Joe Moody, James Parsons, Charlie Faumuina, Jeremy Thrush, Dominic Bird, Richie McCaw CAPTAIN, Sam Cane, Victor Vito. Substitutes: Dane Coles for Parsons (46 mins), Wyatt Crockett for Moody (51 mins), Ben Franks for Faumuina (55 mins), Luke Romano for Bird (51 mins), Liam Messam for Vito (37 mins), Augustine Pulu for Perenara (78 mins), Sonny Bill Williams for Malakai (55 mins), Julian Savea for Carter (55 mins).
Referee: Romain Poite (France)