IT IS is a mark of the Scotland squad’s burgeoning confidence and self-belief that, immediately after the game finished on Saturday, dejected players were dwelling on the lost opportunity to win rather than the hard fact of defeat spelled out by the scoreboard.
The Scotland squad have pride in their performance and know they didn’t fall short for want of skill, ability or desire. But that pride is tempered by disappointment in seeing the result slip through their fingers.
Tommy Seymour, whose audacious first-half interception try put Scotland ahead for a short time, said: “I was happy to get a try but disappointed that it was not the result we wanted. We’re not going to be all doom and gloom. We set out to be consistent. We set out to be a team that likes to put other teams under pressure and plays attacking rugby.
“In large parts of the game we fronted up really well. We did put them under pressure and it was an incredibly close game that could have swung either way.
“At one point, I thought it had swung in our favour. That was when we managed to get a penalty straight from the kick-off and their lead was brought back to a point.
“That was a big moment and a motivating factor for the guys and a little bit surprising for them when we came back straight away. These things resonate around a team.
“Obviously, we then had the penalty opportunity to go in front but there is no point in being disgruntled about that because Greig has been slightly short of immaculate off the tee in the last two games, so he is very unlucky.
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“We had opportunities that did not come off for us but we can be proud in what we’ve done and in a way it is good to be disappointed for the right reasons and not just disappointed because we did not go out and perform, or we didn’t play. It is disappointing because we did so many things right and put ourselves in a position to be able to win.
“It was a game where, if the pendulum had swung slightly in our favour, as we thought it had, we would be having a whole different conversation.
“That in itself is pleasing and disappointing. All the guys in the changing room would say there was an opportunity to do something that had not been done. It slipped through our fingers, but that’s what you get when you play the best team in the world.
“It wasn’t pressure from the All Blacks, it was just rugby. Sometimes the scoreline just doesn’t go your way. When the game starts, the occasion is taken out of it, the other team is taken out of it, and it is just another game of rugby.
“We spoke about that during the week to emphasise there was an opportunity to do something that had never been done and to help the players appreciate how special and how rare it is to have these opportunities. We didn’t want to let the occasion take over and overshadow everything and be overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, you have to be street smart and recognise what the other team can do. You have to be alert all the time but, by the same token, you just get on with playing rugby. “
Blindside flanker Rob Harley, who laid claim to being Scotland’s best player against the Kiwis, agreed that it had been pleasing to a high standard and how disappointing it was to ultimately be on the losing end.
He said: “We gave everything we had and can take huge pride in how we performed against the world champions.
“We tried and we left everything out there. Yes, it was a lost opportunity because, for large parts of the game, we got the performance we wanted with incredible backing from the crowd. The energy was there and we did have our chances. Unfortunately, they have shown their quality and come back but we will look at how we can build.
“It was a goal to go out and create some chaos and, in large parts, we achieved that. It’s what I enjoy – the rough stuff in around the rucks. And it was great to play in front of a capacity crowd in such an incredible atmosphere. I am proud of how we played. It was a significant step up from the Argentinia game – the whole atmosphere was up a notch. We talked about things we could do to improve, putting pressure back on them, and we did lift our standards and we have to improve again against Tonga.”
The focus now shifts to Kilmarnock and the third and final autumn international at Rugby Park against Tonga, who infamously beat Scotland in Aberdeen in 2012, costing Andy Robinson his job as coach.
Full-back Stuart Hogg, a team-mate of Seymour and Harley at Glasgow Warriors, played in that game and remembers it only as wet, cold and miserable on the night. The New Zealand lessons will now be applied, though.
Hogg said: “It was a massive 80-minute performance from us but it was one that has got away. We went out there and expressed ourselves and showed that we can play rugby. Our defence was outstanding and, on the flipside, our attack was good as well.
“We knew that, whatever team the All Blacks would put out, it would be strong so we had to concentrate on ourselves. During the week we were high on confidence, enjoying our rugby with smiles on our faces. We were doing a job – individual players playing well, but collectively too.
“We’re getting closer and closer every time, travelling in the right direction. The result is disappointing but we are in a good place. When you look back on previous performances against NZ we got stuffed 40 point, 50 points so it is good to be competing these days. On another day we could have won it. In these last two games we have set the bar for high standards and we will be raising that bar so that we can become the best rugby nation we can be. And that starts against Tonga this weekend.”
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