IT MIGHT have been worse. It might have been a lot worse. Nevertheless, there were far too many missed tackles – 21 according to a published statistic, as against 71 made. Curiously, the All Blacks had to make more tackles than the sum total we made and missed, while missing 11 themselves. But this just goes to show how misleading statistics can be. They had to make more tackles because we played a lot of pick-and-drive. In contrast, they moved the ball wide time and time again. One might add that if Dan Carter is faced by a prop and hooker, he will break between them nine times out of ten.
Carter and Richie McCaw: has any team ever had a better 10 and 7? No disrespect to their opposite numbers in the Scotland side, but if they had been switched with Carter and McCaw, I fancy the great duo would still have found themselves in the winner’s enclosure. Some have suggested McCaw had a quiet game. That wasn’t my impression. He was always on the spot when it mattered. To concede six tries is always bad, and at least three of them should have been stopped. “Stopped”, however, may be the wrong word. “Checked” or “delayed” might be better, for the chances are that if the tackles which were missed had been made, the All Blacks would have retained possession, re-cycled the ball and been at us again, and again, and again, till something gave. So, if in the run-up to the tries there were tackles conspicuously missed by Ross Rennie, Sean Lamont, Tim Visser, Geoff Cross, Ross Ford, Stuart Hogg and Max Evans – and by others, less conspicuously – the tries might all have been scored a phase or two later anyway. The All Blacks are that good at recycling the ball from the tackle point and moving it again.
Looking on the brighter side, we scored three tries , and for a team that has been notably try-shy – think of the World Cup a year ago – this was a welcome achievement. Young Matt Scott created the first one by his ability to read the play and intercept Carter’s pass. He then found Tim Visser on his shoulder, and that was that. Probably any of the candidates for the wing position would have scored that try – if, that is, he had had the wit to be there for the pass. Visser’s second try was even easier – a short run-in after Greig Laidlaw cleverly hoicked the ball out of the ruck and Mike Blair alertly took advantage of the unprotected blind side to pass to Visser. But again he had to be there, in the right place at the right time. As Tom English remarked yesterday, Visser’s defence is still a work in progress. Even if it doesn’t progress as far as we might wish, we should remember that several prolific try-scoring wings such as Tommy Bowe, Chris Ashton and Julien Malzieu are fallible in defence. One might add the greatest of them all, David Campese, to that list. If, like Visser – or Campese – you score two, and leak one, you, and your team, are in credit
For most of the game the Scottish forwards gave as good as they got, and often more than that. Ross Ford got pinged for a couple of squint throws and may fairly complain that his opposite number, Andrew Hore, got away with two or three that were at least equally off-line. Some of the Scottish mauling was very good. For a man who hadn’t played for a month, Richie Gray was terrific. In general the forwards’ display suggested that they will at least hold their own against any pack they come up against this season. I daresay Euan Murray will play against South Africa, though that will be rough on Geoff Cross, who had a storming game in the loose. Back-row selection will, as usual, be difficult, though it will be no surprise if, in Ross Rennie’s absence, Andy Robinson sticks with the three who played most of the match. This is all the more likely because young David Denton looks to be returning to last spring’s form. If he opts for a specialist 7, it’s still a difficult choice between John Barclay and Chris Fusaro.
I liked Greig Laidlaw’s restarts – though it was sad that he had to kick so many of them – and Mike Blair was very good, His durability is remarkable, given that he was first capped in 2002. Like all scrum-halves nowadays, he took it on himself to urge decisions on the referee, perhaps employing his developing mastery of the French language. In general, the referee, young Jerome Garces, had a good match. However, I hope he will note that in Cardiff, his compatriot Romain Poite twice whistled up scrum-halves for squint feeds at the scrum. Piri Weepu, however, was allowed repeatedly to put the ball into his second row. I daresay Blair’s feeds weren’t straight either, but one is always, of course, more conscious of the opposition’s illegalities.
A final note to put things in perspective. New Zealand beat Argentina 54-15 in La Plata a couple of months ago; on Saturday Argentina beat Wales 26-12. In their last match against a northern hemisphere country, the All Blacks beat Ireland 60-0. Yet Irish rugby is not exactly in ruins. They lost 12-16 to South Africa on Saturday, and know it is a game they should have won.
Mind you, it’s an up-and down game, as illustrated by Australia’s last two matches: an 18-18 draw with the All Blacks, a crushing 6-33 defeat at the hands of the French. This doesn’t mean France are better than New Zealand, or that the Wallabies are useless.