NEW Zealand captain Richie McCaw paid tribute to his side’s ability to bounce back from a draw with Australia and post six tries against what he considered to be a better Scotland team than the one he faced two years ago.
McCaw was highly critical of the Scottish performance in 2010, when the Scots went down tamely in a 49-3 reverse at the hands of McCaw’s men. Speaking on Saturday, he said he hoped that this clash would be different and more reminiscent of his early battles a decade and more ago which were tighter matches until the closing stages.
In reflecting on yesterday’s match, he said: “It might seem to be a similar score, but that was certainly a different game and a different game physically.
“When we got a few points up it would have been easier I would have thought for us to get away, but the Scots hung in there and they scored before half-time and got themselves back into the game. The big guys up front got them into the game at that stage and we were maybe guilty of allowing them yards around the fringes. But that certainly got them right into the field and forced us into mistakes and that was what made it tougher for us.”
He was happier being critical of his own side’s failings, which is natural for a skipper, and particularly a Kiwi one, but he acknowledged that Scotland posed his side problems at times in the game, notably with Greig Laidlaw’s varied restarts.
“There were things we weren’t happy with about our play,” McCaw continued. “We pretty frustrated by the kick-offs; we didn’t react well to where they were kicking and that is a crucial point in the game where you have to keep on it, and teams can sometimes drop their guard. They did well but they scored a try effectively off our missed kick-off before half-time.
“At the start of the second half they came at us, and the ball we did get was in our own half and we played too much rugby there and made a couple of mistakes, and were all of a sudden under pressure, and down to 14 men, and so perhaps we weren’t smart enough there.
“But nothing goes right [all the time] and you always have two teams who are going for each other, and we had that this time, so it was a good Test match.”
McCaw had a relatively quiet game by his standards in a terrific battle of two top-class back rows, where the work by both negated the more dominant effects each were striving for. Moved to No 8 Victor Vito was the pick of the loose forwards with ball in hand, and was a powerhouse in defence. But the real game-changers were the half-backs and, after agreeing with McCaw that Scotland were better than the scoreline suggests, the All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, a typically dour character, was happy to join the throng heaping praise on the performance of Man of the Match Dan Carter.
“I thought that they [Scotland] came to the party to play,” he said, “and played with a lot of physical intent, which we said before the game we expected them to.
“Unfortunately [for them], our guys at times did some pretty wonderful things and when they played well they scored good points.
“He [Carter] was pretty handy with the ball and with the boot. Probably the only thing he did wrong was give them an interception try, but that was probably a reflection of him taking the ball to the line, and he caused them a lot of problems when he did that. When he does that he always plays well and he did it all day.
“But I also thought his job was made easier by a bloke that has come under a lot of criticism, Piri Weepu, who was outstanding for the 60 minutes that he played.”
Asked whether he saw the same spaces that Carter seems to exploit, McCaw said: “I don’t know.
“I think, like Steve says, when he takes the ball to the line he creates opportunities for others because he becomes a big threat. He seems to know when to have a crack. Before one scrum out there he said he’s going to have a go, because he’d obviously seen the space there, but by distributing to others and having them there it opens gaps up for him as well.
“He has a pretty good knack of realising when it’s on, and that fend he has when he has a bit of space is pretty deadly. It’s great to see him playing like that. He was a wee bit disappointed the last time we were out, but he had a hell of a good game.”
Explaining what it is that keeps the All Blacks as far ahead as they have proven to be this year, Hansen added: “The key for us is the performance and reaching the standards that we expect of an All Blacks team.
“We work hard as a group to make sure that there is a real understanding of how our performance is supposed to be. Nothing is perfect in life, but you have to strive for that and when we do get it right then it is pretty effective.
“We have introduced nine new players through the season and your whole squad plays a part in the performance you get on the Saturday or Sunday. They help to set the benchmark and, in doing that, they grow in confidence, and by playing in training against some of the best guys in the world so they become more comfortable, and we saw that with Dane Coles, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Beaudan Barrett today as well.”