ON HIS run-up to the conversion of Jim Pollock’s last-minute try which, had it been successful, would have guarenteed immortality not only for himself but for the 14 other gallant Scots, Peter Dods had not the faintest idea of the score.
If he had, he might never have come so tantalisingly close to creating history.
It was Stu Wilson’s estimate that the ball missed by the width of a post and from where he stood on the east touchline that was very much how it looked to Dods, who only then permitted himself a glance at the scoreboard.
But, when the day comes when someone does for rugby what Peter Dobereiner has done for golf and compiles an anthology of the game’s disasters, Dods’s miss will surely not be one of them. A heroic failure perhaps but certainly not a disaster. It was more difficult by far than Peter Brown’s conversion at Twickenham or John Taylor’s at Murrayfield in that it was hard against the touchline and was technically on the “wrong” side for a right-footed kicker.
Andy Irvine at his most ethereal might possibly have done it but no criticism whatsoever can be attached to Dods, who had given a near faultless display at full-back.
His five penalties kept the Scots within striking distance whenever the All Blacks threatened to move out of range. His success rate in the midst of a relatively barren spell at Gala was, he thought, the result of his decision earlier in the week to revert to his quaint mannerism of taking a couple of hops at the start of his run-up, a ritual he abandoned this season in his efforts to find more length.
If the score-line which blazed down at Dods following his conversion attempt surprised him, he was not alone. Fifty points in an international and a share of the spoils against the All Blacks had not been universally forecast. As it was, one landmark was reached. It was, by ten points, the highest score registered by Scotland against New Zealand and although they were beaten in the matter of tries by 3-1, and disappointed some by the rigidness of their approach, their tactical plan on the day was the only one possible.
The tactics, of course, were dependent upon the whole-hearted commitment of the forwards which is exactly what Jim Aitken got from his pack. He has a happy knack of extracting the maximum effort from players under his command and with his guidance it is inconceivable that the South would so quickly have lost heart. At any rate Tom Smith was a revelation and, on several forward drives from the lineout and the loose, an inspiration. On one occasion in the first half he set up a ruck which even had New Zealanders drooling.
He received valiant support from Bill Cuthbertson, who, although he lost out to the agile Braid at the front of the lineout, was indispensable as the slogging worker in the pack. He was no sluggard about the field either which was one of the principal reasons why the Scots rucked so much better against the All Blacks than the Lions had done.
The back row, notwithstanding a tendency to fall offside which, on this occasion, fortunately, went unpunished, commanded admiration for their surging spirit and close pursuit of anything in black. All three, Jim Calder, John Beattie and Iain Paxton, put in withering tackles and apart from an intense assault on the Scotland line in the closing seconds, the tourists were forced to do most of their attacking from the middle distance.
This they did twice, however, with deadly effect, Bernie Fraser scoring on both occasions from moves which were remarkably similar in origin and execution. Andrew Donald initiated the first after Murray Mexted had appeared to pass off the ground. The scrum-half raced down the left touch-line and with Mark Shaw acting as the link Fraser was off with only Dods to beat. Fraser’s carefully placed chip ahead gave him the crucial fraction of a second he needed to beat Dods to the touchdown. He did the same again in the second half when Jock Hobbs had exploded from a thicket of forwards in support of Donald.
But little else was seen of the All Blacks’ finishing power. Their other try was typically opportunist. It was scored by Hobbs after Baird had been easily dispossessed by Stu Wilson in touch and Mexted had taken advantage of the quickly-taken throw.
In their pre-match plans, the All Blacks had spent much of their time plotting John Rutherford’s downfall. They had thought that he wuld run at them and afterwards Bryce Rope, their coach, expressed his surprise that he hadn’t. But Rutherford was playing to orders and carried them out with exceptional precision. He sent the ball to all corners of the field constantly turning the All Blacks from their well- grooved path. One Garry Owen to the posts would certainly have produced a try had it not been for a knock-on.
Of the many instances of Scottish valour in defence none had a more profound effect than his crushing tackle on Donald and, despite missing with three attempts, he dropped a couple of goals to give Scotland the encouragement of an early lead. Roy Laidlaw, latterly so tired and harassed on the Lions tour, played like a man relieved of a terrible burden.
Johnston, who clearly enjoys the company of his club partner Kennedy, Baird and Pollock were, of tactical necessity, restricted in the roles they were given but each played his part nobly and Pollock, something of a talisman for the Scots, has seen more history made in his three internationals than others have experienced in an entrire careeer.
Not only has he been on the winning side in Cardiff and Twickenham but he has drawn with the All Blacks and has joined Colin Deans and Bruce Hay as the only Scots since the war to score tries against New Zealand.