Rugby: Battling Scots team is left to ponder ‘if only’

Man of the match Dan Carter steps around Nick De Luca
Man of the match Dan Carter steps around Nick De Luca
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Matt Scott today insisted Scotland were left kicking themselves in frustration at losing 22-51 to the world champion All Blacks in a fast and hugely entertaining EMC 
Autumn Test.

Of course, this Scottish team had aimed to become the first ever to defeat New Zealand in 29 meetings but if there was such a thing as a consolation record they did cross the tourists’ try-line three times – something that has never previously happened in Edinburgh.

Only in such diverse locations as Dunedin (twice) and Pretoria have the Scots had the All Blacks stretched out along their goal-line awaiting conversions; indeed such a relative indignity hasn’t happened to them in any of their last 18 fixtures since losing to Australia in September 2011.

But all that was scant consolation to 22-year-old Edinburgh centre Scott in revealing emotions which augur well for Saturday’s truly important clash with South Africa which must be won if Scotland are to stand a chance of a second tier (top eight) seeding and thus avoiding two big guns when the draw for the World Cup is made on December 3.

Said Scott: “We will look at the video and kick ourselves about a few technical bits. When they were down to 14 men [visiting flanker Adam Thomson was yellow carded when he ought to have seen red for raking Al Strokosh on the head] we really had them under the cosh but we lost a key line-out from five metres out. These are key moments that can turn it.

“We didn’t get much ball in the back line and what let us down was in defence when we stood off them a bit.”

In fact, for all Scotland’s competitiveness in attack with tries from Tim Visser (2) and Geoff Cross, the kiwis helped themselves to half a dozen, many directly traceable to home errors.

Scott added: “Everybody was gutted after the game.”

After a promising opening when Scotland led 7-3 and then squared at 10-10 New Zealand fired a three-try salvo before half time. “They scored a couple of quickfire tries and they got that gap we didn’t want them to have,” added Scott. “When the scores were close they looked a bit nervous. We got our tails up a bit. Unfortunately they got a bit of cushion and they are hard to beat from there.

“All credit to a world class side who taught us a few things but we definitely had our moments as well. Richie Gray carried ball well and Dave Denton made a big impact when he came on for Ross Rennie (shoulder injury).

“There’s a lot to be proud of. I watched South Africa beat Ireland and they are a massive, physical team who give 110 per cent. They have a lot of injuries and missing some key players. The guys stepping in are massive, physical and with a great skill set. They will be just as physical, if not more so, than New Zealand. There is a big pressure on us. But we will try and take confidence with the intent of beating South Africa like we did in 2010.

“I just want to keep improving so I can play in more games like New Zealand and, hopefully, South Africa.”

Scott certainly staked his claim by shrewdly reading an intercept situation to leave the game’s outstanding figure, Dan Carter, contemplating his one black mark. “We talked about coming off the line in defence. Carter threw the pass and luckily it went straight into my arms.

“I was kind of running in quicksand a bit and my legs felt as if they were trying to give way. I looked to see where Tim Visser was and right enough he was on my shoulder. I let him finish it off because I didn’t think I was going to make it.”

In fact, Scott was convinced he did cross only for the ‘score’ to be ruled out by the video official. “I thought I had grounded the ball but things happened so quickly. (Piri) Weepu managed to get under the ball. It was one of those ones where it was hard for the TMO to see. It was kind of a blind call.”

Scotland are actually the last team to prevent New Zealand scoring a single point in a Test match – a 0-0 draw back in January 1964 – but any thoughts of repeating that feat lasted a whole 42 seconds which is as long as it took for the forwards to infringe and allow Dan Carter to line-up a penalty on the way to a man-of-the-match performance for the stand off who scarcely had a hand laid on him all day.

In other respects it was something of a landmark day for the Scots who, at times, played superior attacking rugby to when Australia and South Africa were brought down in Edinburgh during the past three years.

Alas, too often the Scots shot themselves in the foot with basic errors.

The real encouragement lies in the fact that they will have greater self belief for what is now a must-win meeting with South Africa on Saturday and heart can be taken, too, from the way players like Richie Gray, Geoff Cross and others ran themselves into the ground while Visser transported scoring form with Edinburgh on to the Test stage. Several more Scots are surely now being taken more seriously as Lions contenders including Visser whose opening touchdown saw Greig Laidlaw converting for a 7-3 lead after 13 minutes.

Unlike recent instalments of the fixture Scotland had managed to get themselves into the game and the first of the six All Black tries had a slice of fortune with referee Jerome Garces appearing to ignore a crooked line-out throw at the outset of the move. In the event the magical Carter’s dummy created the space for Israel Dagg to go over out wide.

Carter converted but in 24 minutes a Laidlaw penalty levelled the scores as a prelude to a collapse which saw Carter land a penalty and convert tries by Julian Savea, Cory Jane and Andrew Hore.

Trailing 10-34 there was a lifeline for the Scots just before the interval when, after Matt Scott had been denied on by the video official, Geoff Cross battered over for Laidlaw to convert. However, Savea’s try came from a swift counter attack from a Scottish clearance and the score by Jane could be traced back to the schoolboy error of getting in front of the restart kicker. As for the Hore try that came from one of several slack line-outs.

Simon McDowell has long been regarded as something of a nemesis for Scotland stretching back to 2005 when he controversially ruled out an Ally Hogg ‘try’ in Paris for an alleged foot in touch.

On this occasion the assistant referee surpassed himself by backing off from recommending the ultimate sanction to Thomson whose fate is now in the hands of a citing officer.

Some justice was served when a turnover saw Visser go in at the corner but that was the end of the Scottish scoring.

A Carter penalty sparked the kiwi victory surge with a squint throw contributing to Savea’s try brace while Ben Smith’s score was the product of typically quick inter-passing for which few, if any, sides would have had an answer.