New Zealand 31
DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield
A MATCH that had it all. Sublime skill, breathtaking tries, controversy, heroism, non-stop entertainment and a sadly predictable ending. With 20 minutes to go, it really did look like Scotland could finally put to bed their 117 year – 31-match – wait for a win over these opponents, but ultimately the winning grit of the All Blacks, and perhaps the weight of history, proved too much for the Scots as they were reeled back in, before a late try for debuting winger Mark Talea killed off the contest.
There will be plenty of frustration in the post-match debrief, but there should be a serious dollop of pride at how the team tackled this challenge. There were giants all over the park for Scotland. Not least returning talisman Finn Russell who gave a maestro performance, but it would be wrong to focus on just the stand-off.
In the final reckoning, however, this was another one that got away. Scotland coughed up penalties on New Zealand’s line at least three times, whereas their opponents were ruthless at getting the job done when they got within striking distance. A nine point lead with less than 20 minutes to go has to be defendable against the best teams in the world, but when the momentum swung away from the home team there was no gas left in the tank for a counter-punch.
This weekend’s Premiership reports:
It started ominously for the home team. Jamie Ritchie gave away an early offside penalty which allowed New Zealand to kick to the corner, and the All Blacks were playing advantage for another penalty against the Scottish captain for jumping across the line-out when Scott Barrett muscled over with almost indecent ease from the back of the maul, giving the visitors the lead with just two minutes 23 seconds on the clock.
Scotland rallied briefly, but were soon scrambling backwards again when Ardie Savea pick-pocketed the under-supported Matt Fagerson as he set up a ruck. Beauden Barrett released Caleb Clarke on the left with a neat grubber, and after the powerful winger had made good ground Barrett again put boot to ball with a diagonal into acres of space on the right, which handed debut boyTelea as easy a first try in international rugby as he could have hoped for.
Scotland desperately needed a shot of inspiration, and they got it from Stuart Hogg – still a national treasure even if he clearly fails unfairly maligned at times – who burst through midfield off a Russell-esque inside pass from Matt Fagerson, chipped the last man and was winning the race to touch-down when he was shoved off the ball by Anton Lienart-Brown. It was referred to the TMO, but there was no doubt that it had to be a penalty-try and yellow-card.
Tails up, Scotland were straight back on the attack. Duhan van der Merwe almost burst clear on the left but was brought down by a desperate tap tackle, and was then stripped of possession. However, as the visitors tried to capitalise on this turnover ball they shot themselves in the foot, with Darcy Graham picking out David Havili‘s loose pass to Beauden Barrett, then out-pacing Clarke and tip-toeing past Jordie Barrett on his way to the line, setting up Russell’s conversion. Suddenly it was all-square.
Scotland had the All Blacks flustered and when Hogg kicked to corner for Hamish Watson to bundle Jordie Barrett into touch 10 yards from the visiting line, it set up a promising attacking platform, but a ruck penalty conceded meant the home team came away empty handed.
Murrayfield rose as one to hail another spectacular try just before the half hour, when Russell wrapped round Sione Tuipulotu then fired a zinger of a flat pass to Hogg, who then fed Graham over in the corner, but the little winger’s foot brushed the touchline in the act of scoring.
So, play was called back for a New Zealand side-entry at the maul which started that move, and after working play in-field the All Blacks conceded a ruck-penalty right in front of the posts, which allowed Russell to kick his side into the lead.
Now it was New Zealand’s turn to battle back, and it took some real grit in defence from the home side to keep hold of their slender lead, including an excellent man-and-ball tackle by Hogg to kill an overlap on the left. Then Finlay Christie did his birth-country a favour by fumbling at the base of a ruck five yards from the Scots line, and a collapsing penalty at the resultant scrum allowed the hosts to finish the half back on the front foot.
The team in blue (or predominantly pink on this occasion) came close to scoring again when they set up camp on New Zealand’s line during the last few minutes of the half, but Savea got over Fraser Brown and the ball to win a crucial penalty on his own line, bringing the curtain down on a breathtaking 40 minutes of rugby.
Scotland needed to start the second half well, and they did, earning an offside penalty three minutes after the resumption, which Russell turned into three easy points.
Was it too early to start believing? The Murrayfield crowd certainly had their hopes up, and the home players responded with another ramp up in intensity.
An early engagement penalty saw Russell prod Scotland nine points ahead with 27 minutes to go, putting the hosts beyond a converted try of being caught.
The All Blacks were clearly not enjoying themselves at this point, conceding penalties like they were going out of fashion, questioning everything, making far more basic mistakes than you would ever expect from a team wearing that iconic jersey, and seemingly unable to refocus on the task in hand.
Slowly but surely, however, they began to build their way back into the contest, and when Rory Sutherland was called for collapsing a scrum it was well within range for Jordie Barrett to bring it back to a six-point game. It was the All Blacks’ first points in 54 minutes and they could now see a way out of the hole they were in.
They were soon back on the Scottish line and Jack Dempsey saw yellow for a deliberate knock-on which was not very well disguised as an attempted tackle. New Zealand opted for the scrum from which they muscled over again, with Scott Barrett claiming his second, and brother Jordie’s conversion edged the visitors into a one-point lead with 14 minute to go.
The killer blow came on 74 minutes when the New Zealand juggernaut rolled into the strike zone with a relentlessness that we had not seen since the opening minutes, leading to Telea handing off Graham to touch down in the corner. Jordie Barrett slotted the conversion amid a cacophony of embarrassing booing from the stands, as if pretend indignation would persuade referee Murphy that control of the ball had been lost in the act of scoring. It patently had not been.
It was a flat end to a thrilling match for Scotland’s fans, but plenty more positives and negatives for Gregor Townsend‘s men following a couple of worryingly uninspired performances in their opening two matches of this Autumn series.
Argentina next week is a big, big game, with a score to settle from the summer and the opportunity to finish this international window with a 50 percent as opposed to 25 percent success rate.
Scotland: S Hogg; D Graham, C Harris (M Bennett 64), S Tuipulotu (B Kinghorn 77), D van der Merwe; F Russell, A Price (B White 64); P Schoeman (R Sutherland 56-64), F Brown (E Ashman 71), Z Fagerson (W Nel 58), R Gray, G Gilchrist (J Gray 64), J Ritchie, H Watson (J Dempsey 17), M Fagerson.
New Zealand (v Scotland at Murrayfield, Sunday @ 2.15pm): J Barrett; M Telea, A Lienart-Brown, D Havili (R Ioane. 53), C Clarke; B Barrett (S Perofeta 79), F Christie (T Perenara 56); E De Groot (G Bower 51), S Taukei’aho (C Taylor 56), N Laulala (F Newell 51), S Whitelock, S Barrett (T Vaa’i 71), A Ioane (S Frizell 59), D Papali’i, A Savea.
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Scotland: Tries: Penalty Try, Graham; Con: Russell; Pen: Russell 3.
New Zealand: Tries: S Barrett 2, Talea 2; Cons: J Barrett 4; Pen: J Barrett,
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-5; 0-7; 0-12; 0-14; 7-14; 12-14; 14-14; 17-14 (h-t) 20-14; 23-14; 23-17; 23-22; 23-24, 23-29; 23-31.
Yellow cards –
Scotland: Dempsey (64mins)
New Zealand: Leinart-Brown (11mins)