Gregor Townsend: It was the biggest lead Scotland have ever had over New Zealand and we didn’t win

Gregor Townsend’s post-match demeanour suggested he will take a long, long time to get over Scotland’s 31-23 defeat by New Zealand at Murrayfield.

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend could not hide his disappointment at not putting New Zealand to the sword.
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend could not hide his disappointment at not putting New Zealand to the sword.

The head coach was bitterly disappointed as he picked over a performance which saw Scotland score 23 unanswered points between the 12th and 52nd minutes and lead 23-14 going into the final quarter. “That will be the biggest lead we have had over New Zealand in our history and we didn’t win,” said Townsend.

It was an engrossing match which saw New Zealand race into a 14-0 lead inside seven minutes through tries from Samisoni Taukei'aho and debutant Mark Telea only for Scotland to come storming back with a penalty try and a brilliant Darcy Graham effort to tie things up at 14-14 seven minutes later.

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The home side had the better of the first half and Finn Russell’s penalty had them ahead at the interval. The recalled stand-off added a couple more after the break but New Zealand recovered their poise and, after Scotland replacement Jack Dempsey had been sin-binned, they scored two more tries, through Scott Barrett and Telea to win the match.

Townsend was left to rue key moments when Scotland were outplaying the All Blacks but were unable to come away with points. There was also a disallowed effort from Graham where his foot went into touch before he was able to get the ball down for what would have been a spectacular try.

“A couple of times we got over the try line,” he said. “The one in the first half was really good play by them. [Ardie] Savea’s jackal – he timed that well but we should have shifted the ball a bit wider. The one in the second half was bad luck. The way the offload went to Ali [Price], the defence got the advantage. There was Darcy's one which was millimetres away from a try as well. Those three occasions you increase your lead. We scored 23 points to nil during a 50-minute period. With those margins you have to kick on and win. You have to see out the win and we did not do that.”

This one will gnaw away at Townsend, all the more so because Scotland get to play New Zealand so infrequently these days. The last occasion before Sunday was 2017 and that was another close shave – 22-17. “It is galling we don’t get to play New Zealand every couple of years like we used to,” he said. “We have never beaten them in our history so when you play like that and get a lead you feel you should win and we didn’t.”

Townsend left Russell out of his original autumn squad but brought him back in after Adam Hastings was injured against Fiji and he felt the Racing 92 fly-half delivered an assured performance. “His decision making around where to play, when to play, was very good. His goal-kicking was excellent.”

Fraser Brown was also brought back for his first start in almost two years and Townsend said the hooker impressed. “Fraser Brown did really well and I thought the lineout was a massive plus for us. Richie Gray has been excellent over the past few weeks and Fraser had to go longer than we had expected him to given we picked up a back row injury early.”