Scotland’s brave World Cup run came to a predictable halt last night as holders New Zealand became the first team through to the semi-finals.
The Kiwis ran in eight tries, five of them from their star-studded three-quarter line, in a 40-4 victory and took their points total in four games to an impressive 186.
But it was far from the feared rout as the Bravehearts, inspired by skipper Danny Brough, shrugged off their massive underdog status as well as a row over funding – their Facebook page claimed their financial backing has been removed pending a future decision – to entertain the 16,207 crowd at Headingley.
They trailed 36-0 but certainly had their chances and finally produced the biggest cheer of the night when left winger Alex Hurst scored their solitary try on 64 minutes. “My lads gave it their best shot,” said Scotland coach Steve McCormack.
“We expected New Zealand to be that good – they are a world-class team and it will take a good side to beat them. The lads have given everything in this tournament, we got to the quarters for the first time in our history and I’m very proud of them. Everything about this tournament has been excellent for Scotland. Now it’s important we move forward from here.”
McCormack’s team looked up for it from the start, especially during a frantic, physical opening in which full-back Matthew Russell and Kiwi star man Sonny Bill Williams both needed treatment for head injuries.
The Scots had an escape when hooker Isaac Luke had a fifth-minute try disallowed for a knock-on but the Kiwis’ first score came only three minutes later when Luke broke down the middle and impressive full-back Kevin Locke combined with Williams to get centre Bryson Goodwin over for the first of his two tries.
The Bravehearts were determined to go down fighting, however, and clever kicks from half-backs Peter Wallace and Brough got them in good positions to mount pressure without them being able to apply the finishing touches.
Danny Addy was brought down just short of the line while Brough made a clean break but found defender Dean Whare instead of a team-mate. New Zealand, on the other hand, demonstrated clinical finishing to run in four tries in a 16-minute spell midway through the first half.
Prop Jesse Bromwich took Frank Pritchard’s pass from dummy half to crash over from close range and right winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck collected Johnson’s cut-out pass to register his fifth try of the tournament.
Pritchard then finished off the best move of the match to score his first try of the World Cup before Williams produced a sublime fend on Ian Henderson to get Johnson over.
That was the signal for Williams to take a breather but there was no respite from the punishing runs of winger Manu Vatuvei who was a handful all night for the Scotland defence and was only denied a spectacular try on 31 minutes when team-mate Johnson got in his way.
There was a clear sign that it was not going to be Scotland’s night when man of the match Tuivasa-Sheck turned defence into attack with devastating effect early in the second half, gathering Kane Linnett’s kick on his 10-metre line to show a clean pair of heels on a 90-metre sprint for his second try.
Vatuvei appeared unfortunate to be denied a try for a foot in touch but he deservedly got on the scoresheet on 57 minutes but there was reward too for Scotland when they finally breached the champions’ line.
Inevitably Brough was at the heart of it, creating the perfect attacking position with a 40-20 kick and then sending out a long pass from which Linnett got Hurst over at the corner.
Brough was unable to add the goal and the Kiwis added a further try 10 minutes from the end when Goodwin plucked the ball out of their from Kieran Foran’s kick to claim his second try.
New Zealand’s win would have been more emphatic had Johnson not missed with four of his eight conversion attempts, but it was still enough to take his points tally for the tournament to 62 and enable him to overtake Henry Paul as his country’s record World Cup scorer.
“It was a pretty good performance,” said New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney. “We had a really difficult week in preparing, because everyone expected us to get the result, so the lads have done very well in preparing properly and completing the job.
Referee: B Cummins