Cotter hails character and ambition of young team

AHEAD OF this match Scotland coach Vern Cotter suggested that whatever happened in the game he would at least learn something about this group of players.

So close: Greig Laidlaws disappointment was clear. Picture: Craig Watson/SNS/SRU

So, after witnessing his side give the All Blacks a fright, what secrets did Cotter uncover?

“We always knew this game was going to give us something and I thought it gave us a lot of positive things,” said the Kiwi. “There were a lot of really good things but there were things that we want to improve and that is the nature of this group. It’s a group that wants to improve and I think that’s really important. It’s a young group that wants to move forward.

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“If you look at our defence, apart from a couple of plays, it was excellent. I thought some players put their hands up.

“Everybody contributed. I think we can gain confidence from the way we vary our game. We can attack, we can kick, we use the short side, we use space at the back. The one thing you can be sure of is that there is character in this side and that is very important.”

The Scots will rue a late penalty from Greig Laidlaw which drifted just past the posts. It would have given the home team a lead of two points with ten minutes remaining, but when the Scotland skipper was quizzed about his rare mistake from the tee, the hurt was too recent.

“Yeah, I really meant to push the kick wide,” came his reply with a large side salad of sarcasm. “We win together and we lose together.”

Scotland struggled to impose themselves in the first 40, having to scramble desperately to keep their line intact. Ironically, the one try New Zealand did grab in the first half only arrived after what looked like an obvious knock-on from the visitors’ skipper. After the break the home side arguably looked the more fluid of the two teams, putting together several multi-phase attacks including slick interchange between backs and forwards.

“That was the plan,” said Laidlaw of the second-half renaissance. “There were times in the first half when we probably kicked a bit early and the message was clear at half-time: ‘Get out there and play and you will get rewards from it.’ The boys played fantastic and we put their defence under a lot of stress for large parts of the second half.”

The All Blacks coach, Steve Hansen, who is in charge of a team that today have sat atop of the IRB rankings for fully five years, pretty much admitted as much after the contest when he said that it was the “perfect game” for his players who had to find a way to win against a very stuffy side. He repeatedly called the Scots an “up and coming team” and even likened yesterday’s two protagonists as young outfits on the make. “I think Scotland are a very good side on the way up,” said Hansen. “There was a period in the game where they wanted to play inside the 22, and when they review the game they will probably want to say, ‘maybe we should have kicked that’, but they defended really well throughout that period.

“They are a young team and they are learning and they will get a lot out of this match, some confidence for sure and some belief and that’s what they want. By the time the Six Nations comes around they will be right.”