Gregor Townsend’s thoughts will firmly have turned to the challenge of the Wallabies on Saturday, but many will still be mulling over the heartbreak of letting a first-ever win over the All Blacks slip through our fingers.
It was there for the taking, and the world champions knew it.
So did Townsend and his players, with a “gutted” skipper John Barclay saying post-match: “That’s one that got away.”
So where did it go wrong? We take a look at five moments that turned the match
1) Inability to take chances
We created plenty – indeed much has been made of the 17 entries into the All Blacks’ 22 by Toony’s side, but they were not clinical enough.
Early in the first half, Cornell Du Preez dropped a straightforward pass that denied Lee Jones the chance to capitalize on a two-on-one, while Huw Jones dropped Finn Russell’s pass about six or seven metres from the All Black line. Zander Fagerson was guilty too, dropping a short pass from Ali Price before compounding the fact and giving away a penalty at the resultant scrum.
Du Preez, on his maiden Test start, could be forgiven early nerves, while Fagerson had replaced WP Nel earlier in the week, but dangerman man Jones will know he should’ve done better with
‘only’ Sonny Bill Williams to beat. That failure to take chances proved costly in the end, and the hosts knew it.
“We probably left a couple of scores out there,” said a dejected Stuart Hogg at the post-match press conference.
2) Lapses in concentration
Previous victories over Australia, England and a once-mighty South Africa have proved Scotland must be at their absolute best to topple the big four. Townsend’s men were agonizingly close, but some lapses in concentration and application cost the Scots an historic victory.
The decision to take a five-metre scrum with the All Blacks down a man seems, on the face of things, a sensible one. But when Kane Hames sprinted from the bench to re-enter the fray with the speed of a champion racehorse, you felt the Scots may have wanted to reconsider. Particularly when the home front row had not enjoyed its best day.
So it proved, as the All Blacks powered the hosts off the ball to win a penalty and clear to touch. Perhaps another leader – I’m looking at Mr Laidlaw – may have chosen to tap and go, or
even to kick the points. Similarly Tommy Seymour’s moment of madness touching the ball down in-goal after it had hit his leg. Was the winger trying to call ref Matt Carley’s bluff? Did he not realise it he’s carried it over? Either way, it was odd and thanks only to the good work of Ali Price it didn’t cost any points.
Townsend’s side were up against a mammoth task anyway, but to lose Zander Fagerson at half-time was a big blow. Alex Dunbar’s head knock was a double blow, forcing the defensive linchpin off while the All Blacks scored their first try, Reiko Ioane’s pass to Codie Taylor on the left wing exploiting a gap that Dunbar would’ve filled somewhere in the midfield.
Before that, Hamish Watson had been forced off, and his replacement Luke Hamilton – a fine performer on his international debut – had his involvement curtailed with a serious-looking ankle injury. That meant hooker George Turner came on, with he and Stuart McInally rotating between the front and back rows. Not ideal in any circumstance, far less against the best side in the world.
Luckily, this is probably the only area they can’t do anything about.
4) The referee
It was hard to ignore the influence Mr Carley had on proceedings, a couple of big calls swinging the balance towards the men in black. The decision not to card Waisake Naholo after the winger clattered into Stuart Hogg in mid-air seemed a strange one at the time, with the TMO appearing to talk Carley down from his stance that it was a sin-bin offence. Give the Englishman his due, not many referees have shown two yellow cards to All Blacks in such a close match, but should there have been two more? Naholo was lucky, but not quite as lucky as his skipper Kieran Read.
The number eight, lying at the bottom of a ruck, slapped the ball out the hands of Jonny Gray 5m from the Kiwi line, but Carley missed it and instead said Gray had knocked on, disallowing
Jamie Bhatti’s try in the process. Had Bhatti been allowed to celebrate a maiden Test touch down, perhaps Scots would have left Murrayfield celebrating a first-ever win over the All Blacks. Either way New Zealand should probably have gone 30+ minutes down a man or two.
5) All Black Magic
Two scores off set-plays, a sumptuous grubber for Damian McKenzie – who, had things been different, could have been wearing Scotland colours on Saturday evening – for the first score, and a beautiful second that saw Sonny Bill Williams clatter over Peter Horne before offloading to McKenzie who chucked a marvelous pass out to the flying Beauden Barrett, who slid over.
They were delightful scores, fit to win any Test match and right out of the top All Blacks drawer – which is a pretty big drawer. Exceptional too, was the tackle from Barrett that hauled down Stuart Hogg in the game’s dying embers. Lady Luck probably sat on the side of the All Blacks at the weekend – especially the Read incident being missed – as they left BT Murrayfield with their unbeaten Test record against the Scots just about intact, but if Townsend’s side can repeat their performance this weekend, they will go a long way towards beating the Wallabies for a second time this year.