NEW ZEALAND 42
IT says a lot about the progress which has been made in the Scotland Under-20 set-up in recent seasons that there will be a degree of disappointment within the camp at how this game panned out. There is absolutely no shame in the result, and when the dust settles the players will be able to view it as a valuable moment in their rugby development, but it is slightly frustrating that a number of unforced errors made a huge challenge even tougher.
“I’m really proud. I think we showed a really spirited performance, I think we showed we are ready to compete at this level, we just need to put in a full 80- minute performance because we were right up there with 50 minutes played,” said Scottish captain Callum Hunter-Hill.
The skipper identified his team’s physicality, ability to get beyond the ball [legally] at rucks and composure at crucial moments as three key areas for improvement ahead of taking on Ireland in match two of this Junior World Cup campaign on Sunday.
Scotland have played New Zealand at this level twice before, and it did not go well on either occasion. They managed just three tries when slumping to 54-7 and 68-10 defeats in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Not only did Hunter-Hill and his team-mates equal that number of touch-downs in this match alone, but they did so when the game was still very much alive as a contest. The really significant thing about this Scottish performance is that their opponents were never really in a position to take their foot off the accelerator.
Scotland initially defended well against an early New Zealand onslaught, but were then ripped open by a devastating flat pass (which had perhaps drifted slightly forward) from stand-off Tiann Falcon, which set Tima Faingaanuku free on the left. The Kiwi winger showed how exciting a prospect he is when stepping inside Blair Kinghorn then swatting off Stafford McDowall’s tackle on his way to the line.
With just two and a half minutes played, it was an ominous moment, but the young Scots responded superbly, building pressure through a series of powerful line-out drives – assisted by full-back Kinghorn and centre McDowall getting in on the act – before Fraser Renwick eventually got the ball down over the line.
New Zealand had conceded four penalties in defence during the lead up to this score and were warned that if the indiscipline continued they would lose a man to the sin-bin; but when they got on the front foot with ball in hand they were devastating, as demonstrated by their second try, scored by hooker Asafo Aumua after a sweeping attack almost straight from the restart.
One again, it was Scotland’s excellent line-out work which provided the platform for their response, with winger Darcy Graham bursting over in midfield after his forwards had worked hard to suck in New Zealand’s fringe defence.
The Scottish line-out might have been going well, but their scrum was turning into a major problem. They were lucky not to lose a try when Matt Fagerson fumbled the ball as he tried to rescue possession behind a frantically back-pedalling eight on his own line, with the TMO ruling that Isaia Walker-Leawere hadn’t quite managed to ground the loose ball, but this proved to be ony a temporary reprieve. New Zealand were awarded the put-in at the resulting scrum, and lightening quick possession allowed Faingaanuku to burst through midfield for his second score of the match.
Connor Eastgate narrowed the gap to six points within two minutes of the resumption of action after the half-time break with a simple penalty from in front of the posts after New Zealand carried on their habit from the first half of failing to deal with Scotland’s restarts – but that was immediately cancelled out by three points from Leger as a consequence of Fagerson diving past the ball at a ruck in front of his own posts.
Dalton Papalii capitalised on some pretty average tackling from Lewis Berg and captain Callum Hunter-Hill to snatch the bonus point try for New Zealand; then Scotland shot themselves in the foot when Eastgate opted to run scrum ball from deep but ended up delivering a near uncatchable pass at Berg, which bounced loose for Orbyn Leger to scamper over.
There was a real danger at this stage of the game racing away from John Dalziel’s side, but they kept battling away. McCann showed greats speed and balance with a magnificent counter-attack up the left touch-line. Then, with Papalii in the sin-bin for collapsing a line-out drive close to his own line, the Scots managed to get over for try number three thanks to an excellent breakout from Kinghorn and a deadly finish up the left touchline by Josh Henderson.
This raised the prospect that the Scots could emerge from the match with a crucial four try bonus point, but there was not much gas left in the tank. New Zealand had the final say when a series of punishing drives on the left of the park created a three man surplus on the right, and an inch perfect cross-field kick gifted Faingaanuku his hat-trick try.
New Zealand: W Jordan (C Clarke 61); J McKay, T Tua (T Umaga-Jensen 52), O Leger, T Faingaanuku; T Falcon, E Enari (K Hauiti-Parapara 75); E Lindenmuth (T Farrell 61-73), A Aumua (J Sauni 70), R Coxon (A Fidow 52), I Walker-Leawere (J Pierce 64), S Slade, D Papalii, T Christie (M Mikaele-Tuu 57), L Jacobsen.
Scotland: B Kinghorn; D Graham (R Nairn 52), L Berg (Eastgate 75), S McDowall, R McCann; C Eastgate (J Henderson 62), C Shiel (R Dawson 57); G Thornton (R Dunbar 75), F Renwick (R Smith 62), F Bradbury (A Nicol 36-40, 47), A Craig, C Hunter-Hill, L Crosbie, T Gordon (B Flockhart 33), M Fagerson (T Dodd 57).
New Zealand: Try: Faingaanuku 3, Aumua, Papalii, Leger; Con: Falcon 3; Pen: Falcon 2.
Scotland: Try: Renwick, Graham, Henderson; Con: Henderson; Pen: Eastgate.
Scoring Sequence (New Zealand first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-5; 12-5; 12-10; 17-10; 19-10 (h-t) 19-13; 22-13 27-13; 32-13; 34-13; 37-13; 37-18; 37-20; 42-20.
Yellow cards –
New Zealand: Papalii
Man-of-the-Match: New Zealand winger Tima Faingaanuku scored three tries and was devastating whenever he got his hands on the ball.
Talking Point: Scotland must now take on last year’s beaten finalists Ireland in four days time. It is a huge ask for a young team, and raises questions about whether player welfare is being respected. Injuries wreaked havoc on Scotland’s ability to remain competitive against the top teams in the competition last year and several key players came off early in this game, so the medical bulletin will be awaited with trepidation.