Scotland 16 New Zealand 24: Three talking points
Our man in Edinburgh reflects on an underwhelming All Blacks performance as Scotland continue to impress
Typical All Blacks edge New Scotland
On the 30th meeting of these two great rugby nations, Scotland were quite literally on the verge of something special and making history. Having never beaten the All Blacks at this level, the Edinburgh fixture provided the perfect opportunity to put that uncomplimentary statistic to bed for once and for all. A lot was made of the 13 changes head coach Steve Hansen made to his side, but the All Blacks argued they were making use of their entire squad with a view to selection for next year’s Rugby World Cup. There is also no such thing as a second-string All Blacks team—there are more than 23 world class footballers in New Zealand. Scotland went at this All Blacks side from the moment French referee Romain Poite blew his whistle. Less than 10 minutes may have being on the clock before Victor Vito scored his sides first try, but just like last weekend when faced with a similar dilemma, Scotland refused to buckle under pressure and Tommy Seymour scored a brilliant interception try for Scotland moments later—his second in as many weeks—as the Warriors winger pounced on a loose pass from New Zealand captain Richie McCaw. Scotland led 7-5 for a period of time after Carter failed with a conversion. The Scots were in fact more than good quality for their money throughout and held firm in keeping at bay a frustrated All Blacks attack that lacked its usual fluidity. With the final 10 minutes approaching and the score at 16-17, Greig Laidlaw had a chance to put his side ahead with a penalty. Having being successful with his previous four kicks, the Scottish captain saw his effort go just wide of the post. Man of the match Jeremy Thrush scored the typical sucker try for New Zealand with six minutes remaining, and the All Blacks had just enough to see out the victory following Colin Slade’s conversion, as they have done so on a number of occasions in their illustrious history. It was a valiant performance from a Scottish team who despite coming just short, should be proud of their efforts on the same weekend the All Blacks mark five consecutive years at the top of the world rankings. For the Scotland faithful, the performance and belief of this squad, as well as a new-found confidence and swagger under their Kiwi head coach Vern Cotter, are a consolatory reward.
Positives for beaten up Scots
There is no doubt that the Scottish players who took to field over the course of Saturday evening’s encounter are wounded men after their bruising defeat to the All Blacks. The Scotland medical team reported 10 of the 23 players are being monitored, with centre Mark Bennett returning to Glasgow Warriors with a hamstring injury. Influential forwards Ross Ford and Richie Gray, as well as points-scoring backs Tommy Seymour and Laidlaw are among the walking wounded, which could force Cotter’s hand in ringing the changes for what promises to be another brutal encounter with Tonga on Saturday in Kilmarnock—some of the current squad will not have fond memories of their defeat to the Pacific Islanders two years ago in Aberdeen, which saw the departure of head coach Andy Robinson a day later. Going on the performances so far under Cotter since his arrival in the summer, and the fact that Scotland are a team smarting, Saturday’s game could be the perfect remedy for the Scots and they won’t turn it into another banana skin to slip on. The Warriors back three of Sean Maitland, Stuart Hogg and Seymour continue to be a joy to watch with all three scoring tries in this test series. The Gray brothers are the perfect suitors to the Hastings brothers and the legendary legacy they have within Scottish rugby. Then there is of course Laidlaw. It would be unfair to over analyse his missed kick late in the second half against the All Blacks, which could have given Scotland a two-points lead with 10 minutes remaining, as the former Edinburgh Rugby captain has performed admirably for Scotland in his role as captain, and has been mightily impressive since moving south to join Gloucester Rugby in the summer. Laidlaw has kicked 22 points in two games for Scotland and is one of the most hardworking men on the pitch, as well as being a figure of inspiration on and off it. Next year is going to be a big year for the Scots. It might be too early to predict a World Cup finish, but Scotland are going to be a major player in the next year’s Six Nations.
Not your traditional Carter vintage
It has being a long and painful road to recovery for one of rugby union’s all-time greats. Fresh from a 30-minute cameo appearance off the bench against the USA at the start of the month, Dan Carter made his first start at stand-off for the All Blacks after a 12 month absence from international rugby. Any man’s confidence would take a serious hit if they had experienced the injuries he has endured in his career, including his most recent, which was a broken leg in the Super Rugby final defeat in August. It was far from vintage Carter though and a shadow of the man who picked apart Scotland with ease two years ago. A nervy start brought some rare handling errors and he was rusty on kicking duties off the tee, missing a conversion and penalty in the first half, but it was third time lucky for the Crusaders star, scoring a penalty to put New Zealand 8-7 up just before the half-hour mark. That one kick gave him back some much needed confidence, and he went on to kick a further two penalties before coming off 15 minutes after the restart. The All Blacks may have gone over for 12 tries against the USA Eagles at the start of the month before England and Scotland restricted them to two in each of their last two fixtures of their northern tour, but they are not the world’s best nation for nothing; they have an impressive attacking potency all over the pitch and, with Carter back among the thick of it, an underperforming Wales are they only team in the way of a northern tour blackwash and a 402nd Test match win for New Zealand.