BEAUDEN Barrett, the All Blacks’ match-saver on Saturday, has admitted that for a split-second he feared that Stuart Hogg had got away from him and was about to score a try in the corner. In the event, the New Zealand stand-off got to the man of the match and prevented a score that would have tied the game at 22-22 with a conversion still to come – but, while proud of his team’s ability to hold on for a 22-17 win, he also praised the adventurous style which took Scotland so close to a historic first-ever win over the world champions.
“We knew it was coming,” Barrett said of that last-gasp attack from deep, which for an instant saw Hogg race clear of the cover defence and appear to have the goal line in his reach. “We knew they weren’t going to kick the ball away.
“We decided to kick long and just try and hold them out. We were aware of their attacking threats, particularly out wide in Hogg. He’s obviously a great attacking player. There was one point I thought I gave him too much [space] on the outside and I was worried, but I was relieved to see the outcome as it was.”
“They’re a quality side, and we knew with five points in it that they weren’t going to set up for a drop goal. We were predicting them to come back, keep the ball in hand, and they did well. They threw the ball around and found the space. They’re a quality side and they really tested us in a lot of areas.”
The new confidence on the ball and willingness to attack that Scotland have developed under Gregor Townsend has also been seen by Barrett in other European teams. It is an approach which may make life more difficult for him and his team-mates, but it is also one that he believes is beneficial to rugby as a whole.
“They’re really backing themselves to use the ball,” he said. “We saw that in the Lions series with some really attacking backs, and we saw that tonight too. I think that’s great for the game of rugby; it’s obviously better to watch.
“Teams are probably more unpredictable. We’re probably used to in the past northern-hemisphere teams kicking the ball a lot and being forward-dominant. Now we’re seeing some really good athletes using the ball, and even the forwards are starting to pass little tips or balls out the back. I think that’s great.”
Great, but, on Saturday at least, not great enough to beat the All Blacks, even though they were twice a man down because of sin-binnings. “We’re used to being challenged in different ways,” Barrett continued. “We’ve learned a lot this year, and tonight was no different.
“It’s great that we find ways to come through and still have a win. It’s a sign of our attitude and character and how hard we’re willing to work, even with 14 men at times.”
New Zealand now go on to play Wales in the last game of their end-of-year tour, while Scotland conclude their Autumn Tests at home to Australia. Scrum-half Ali Price noted that, no matter how well Scotland had played, there were still imperfections that have to be ironed out before the Wallabies match.
“There are a couple things to work on,” the Glasgow Warriors No 9 said. “Accuracy again; set piece, defence, focus. We want to be sitting here next week with a win under our belts. If we bring the intensity we did, matched with accuracy, and everyone is behind us, then we’ll get a good result.
“I’ve only played them once, and they’ll be looking to come here to get revenge,” Price continued, referring to Scotland’s win over Australia on their summer tour. “That’s what happens, but at the same time we want to prove that that wasn’t a one-off. We’re a side that’s improving, and I think we showed that tonight. We’ll go out there to win.
“We put in a pretty handy performance [against New Zealand]. Everyone’s gutted that we didn’t win the game. I don’t think anyone gave us a hope in hell all week. We didn’t read too much into that – we were tight-knit and went about our training and knew that if we turned up and put them under pressure and played our game that would be there or thereabouts and give ourselves a good shout.
“We nearly did it. We’re proud of our effort and it’s a shame we just couldn’t get over the line at the end.
“We want to play at tempo. You see that at our lineouts and generally on the pitch. I feel that we’re an exciting team to watch. Teams can’t rest against us, regardless of where the ball is. We’ve got the fitness. Glasgow boys, Edinburgh boys, exile boys – we’re all fit.
“If we’re in games with 60 minutes gone, going into the last 20 we back ourselves to be fitter than anyone else. We were five metres off in the end.”
Price was told off by the referee at one point for waving his arms around trying to get the crowd to make more noise, with the fact that New Zealand were about to take a lineout surely being completely coincidental. The scrum-half admitted that he had been at fault, but revealed that he found a way to win the official over.
“I was a bit over-enthusiastic – I get caught up in the moment. I gave him my puppy eyes and said sorry. He was all right after that.”
Besides going down in the record books as the game in which Scotland came desperately close to getting a result at last against the All Blacks, Saturday’s Test will also be remembered for the appearance before kick-off of Doddie Weir. The former Scotland lock, who has motor neurone disease, brought the match ball on to the Murrayfield pitch. He had also visited the national squad during the week, and Price explained that the players have returned his support by helping his fund-raising efforts.
“All our strips had Doddie’s name and his cap number. All the match jerseys are presented to him to auction off for his charity. It’s a nice gesture. The leaders came up with it and we’re all behind Doddie. I think it’s a good gesture from us.”