TIM Visser scored two tries for Scotland, but world champions New Zealand triumphed in the EMC Test at Murrayfield to extend their unbeaten run to 18 Tests.
Scorers: Scotland: Tries: Visser 2, Cross; Pens: Laidlaw 2; Cons: Laidlaw. New Zealand: Tries: Dagg, Savea 2, Jane, Hore, Smith; Pens: Carter 3; Cons: Carter 6.
FOR 30 minutes Murrayfield dared to dream again of an historic first victory over the All Blacks, but after a hail of tries and the sublime mastery of Dan Carter they were left to rue a gulf in class only temporarily hidden.
Scotland were widely expected to come off second best to the imperious world champions, but the near 30-point gap between the sides at the finish provided little indication of how competitive Andy Robinson’s side was. New Zealand skipper Richie McCaw admitted on the eve of the game that he had been disappointed by Scotland’s showing in the 49-3 victory for his side here two years ago, and he hoped for a harder match.
And where his men scored seven tries to none in reply in 2010, yesterday they managed six, but suffered the loss of three. No team has scored that many against the All Blacks this year and we have to go back nearly two years to find a Northern Hemisphere side, Wales, that posted more than 20 points against McCaw’s men. That left the capacity Murrayfield crowd with something to clutch as they headed into the night, signs of an attack continuing its improvement. The fact that two of them came from the new Scots’ finisher, Tim Visser, also continues the almost implausible story of the Dutchman who is breathing fresh hope into Scottish rugby.
But it was the six against that ultimately mattered. The first three turned what was for the first 25 minutes a compelling Test match, closer than any in recent times between the nations, firmly on to the tracks towards a 27th Kiwi win in 29 meetings between the nations.
How those tries came about goes to the heart of what credit Scotland can or cannot take from the game, because for all the excellent work in a fiercely-contested scrum, maul and lineout, for the most part, the effort and physicality at the breakdown, and powerful tackling, the ease with which they were sliced open for a rapid-fire trio of All Black tries in the second quarter was as clinical and demoralising to Scots’ hopes as any battering of the past.
Errors were seized upon and a sluggish defensive line inviting trouble, but in Carter New Zealand had also possessed as skilful a match conductor as any Murrayfield has witnessed. He scored 21 points and was the creative force in three tries, the stand-off having said in the lead-up that he wanted to banish the memories of what was, for him, a sub-standard display against the Wallabies in the recent 18-18 draw, by taking ball to the gain-line and, when the chance arose, he did so in clinical fashion.
Scotland came into their first Test in six months with a clutch of injuries stiffening Robinson’s task, while New Zealand pitched up more match-fit than usual from an extended Southern Hemisphere international season, and a roasting from their coach Steve Hansen for their below-par display in that draw with Australia only three weeks ago.
But, on a day of remembrance for the war’s fallen, Murrayfield gave them an unprecedented, emotional reception. After the anthems and a rousing ‘Flower of Scotland’, the New Zealand haka began. Leader Piri Weepu took his time working his side up, waiting until the roar had died down, and then launched the famous call to arms.
But halfway through new Scotland captain Kelly Brown began to march his side, arms linked across the pitch, towards halfway. The Murrayfield roar emerged again from each corner of the stadium and built to an almighty crescendo as the Scots stood fixed ten metres from the All Blacks, the stadium rocking to a very Scottish tone and the haka ending in unusually tepid fashion.
The Scottish team then ran to the touchline and lined up as the PA announcer revealed that Sir Chris Hoy, Scotland and GB’s greatest Olympian, was about to appear with the match ball. And Hoy ramped up the atmosphere to another level.
He shook each player’s hand, punched the ball to the air, exhorting the Scots support, and after leaving the ball on the centre mark, turned to the Scottish side, now in formation for the kick-off, and urged them on with emotional punches.
The fact that New Zealand had earned their first penalty after just 48 seconds of the game, which Carter
converted for a 3-0 lead, might have
suggested that it had had little effect, but, in fact, the manner with which Scotland and the Murrayfield crowd took to the fight in the first quarter said otherwise.
By the 24th minute, winger Visser had marked his Murrayfield Test debut with a try and two Greig Laidlaw penalties and a conversion had Scotland level at 10-10. However, just as we were considering the difference to two years ago, when New Zealand had grabbed four tries and put the game away by this stage, a series of errors opened the door and the All Blacks steamed through it with their trademark heady blend of aggression and incomparable handling and running skills.
With just 13 minutes to half-time, the score was 10-10. With two minutes of the half left, the scoreboard showed 34-10 in the tourists’ favour.
Scotland’s opening try came from Visser in the 13th minute when centre Matt Scott intercepted Carter’s pass and took off into the All Blacks half. In the past the attack might have foundered, but now Scotland have a winger in Visser who launches himself after breaks and has the pace to get onto shoulders. He got to Scott after 20 metres and took the pass, and no-one could catch him over the last 30 metres.
But a ruck penalty given away by Jim Hamilton, the Scotland lock, and poor tackling allowed Carter to lead New Zealand back on the attack, and it ended with full-back Israel Dagg finishing off an obvious overlap.
Scotland also lost their quickest forward, Ross Rennie, to a dislocated shoulder in the attack, but Dagg soon followed after an aerial clash with Sean Lamont.
Laidlaw and Carter swapped penalties, and then New Zealand struck again, being allowed to push through phases by a slow Scots defence and then spinning passes wide left as another devastating New Zealand attack pulled Scotland left and right and ended with Julian Savea brushing off Visser to go in.
In two minutes the scoreline had moved from a 10-10 thriller to 20-10, sliding from Scotland. And then the floor gave way. A scrum going early, Sean Lamont running offside at a restart, a faltering lineout and the defensive line stepping just off the pace were errors that invited the All Blacks into the home half, and they took full advantage with tries from Cory Jane and hooker Andrew Hore, slick New Zealand handling from backs and forwards leaving Scots helpless and flailing in their 22. Carter’s faultless kicking took the Kiwis into an unassailable 34-10 lead.
Brown’s troops showed where they differed from the 2010 side in the last two minutes of the half, lock Richie Gray leading a series of salvos at the New Zealand line that roused Murrayfield again and was rewarded, after Scott had been denied a score by Piri Weepu’s knee, with a first international try for prop Geoff Cross.
Converted by Laidlaw it sent Scotland inside 34-17 down, with the feeling around the stadium that we had witnessed enough for an entire game. When Kiwi flanker Adam Thomson was yellow-carded for standing on the head of prone Alasdair Strokosch early in the second half – Thomson is expected to be cited – and Visser then turned neat work by Laidlaw and Mike Blair at a New Zealand ruck into his second try, the atmosphere lifted again.
Carter cleverly kicked another penalty to move the 12-point deficit out to a three-score 15-point gap, and Scotland continued to attack with props Ryan Grant and Cross, and Gray in particular carrying ball aggressively, and Stuart Hogg injecting pace as the game became camped in the Kiwi half.
But with skipper Richie McCaw leading a big defensive effort, New Zealand held firm and a squint lineout provided another invitation for the tourists. Carter quickly turned it into another Savea try, the winger superbly collecting the fly-half’s crossfield kick on the run, and with home debutant Henry Pyrgos on for Blair, Carter’s dancing feet got him in behind the home defence one last time for centre Ben Smith to finish off with three minutes remaining.
Stretching the win to match the previous biggest tally conceded by Scotland in the fixture at Murrayfield, a 51-15 reverse for Gavin Hastings’ side in 1993, seemed cruel on this match, but it merely underlined the All Blacks’ quality and ruthlessness, and Scotland could have no complaints.
Scotland: S Hogg; S Lamont, N De Luca, M Scott, T Visser; G Laidlaw, M Blair; R Grant, R Ford, G Cross, R Gray, J Hamilton, A Strokosch, R Rennie, K Brown (capt). Subs: D Denton for Rennie 21mins, A Kellock for Hamilton 58, S Lawson for Ford, M Evans for De Luca, both 64, R Jackson for Laidlaw, A Jacobsen for Grant, both 66, H Pyrgos for Blair 75.
New Zealand: I Dagg; C Jane, B Smith, T Ellison, J Savea; D carter, P Weepu; W Crockett, A Hore, O Franks, L Romano, S Whitelock, A Thomson, R McCaw (capt), V Vito. Subs: B Barrett for Dagg 26mins, D Coles for Hore, B Franks for O Franks, T Kerr-Barlow for Weepu, all 61, A Williams for Whitelock 67, T Woodcock for Crockett 72.