Still, for about three minutes there it looked like we might give New Zealand a game. Having watched the match since on video, most of my initial thoughts on it remain unchanged from the beery haze of Saturday.
Euan Murray was dominant in the scrum and should cement his place in the team, and hopefully the list of Lions contenders. Alongside him Ross Ford showed up well in the loose and the lineout was solid until he was taken off. John Barclay put himself about well, but didn’t turn over quite so much ball as he might have liked. Moreover Scott Gray did when he came on. Depends on training this week, but might there be a switch or another way of bringing him into the team? Thom Evans showed excellent spirit and pace chasing balls and tackling, and of the other backs Chris Paterson actually showed up a lot more than it appeared from the stands. Once again, Mike Blair was outstanding.
As usual the finishing was very jittery. So jittery that we didn’t cross the line. At all. Comparing the number of fluffed tries (Lamont’s air shot, Blair’s drop, Evans’ chip, Hogg’s failure to pass out) to similar opportunities at the other end and Scotland were more in this game than you’d think. The All Blacks only created a couple of chances but took them, while ruthlessly exploiting our poor play with quick hands and thinking for their other scores. Heart can be taken from the fact that usually the good bits happen in our own 22 where it doesn’t matter. Now Scotland are making line breaks, Scotland are getting down to a few metres from the line, putting pressure on a better team. They’re just not crossing it. This time last year we looked nowhere near it. Make no mistake, Scotland will have a cutting edge soon. They can pass and handle well (there were some nice examples during the game further away from the line). I think it’s a bit of confidence and a little more concentration near the line that would see us over it.
One thing that could be improved are the supporting runners. Often the Scotland team are so far behind Mike Blair that they’re standing about admiring him – “look at Mike go, isn’t he brilliant”. If he was wearing a Black shirt he’d have men on each shoulder pouring through the gap behind him. Too many times a Scotland man made a break only to find no passing options on either side and the move ground to a halt. Mossy was one of the few guys who showed up well in support, but sadly due to the laws of physics was not available to support himself during his excellent early run.
Big Jim played well later on, but you get the feeling he’s not quite mobile enough for the sort of game Scotland need to play. Big Jason had a few good runs and restart takes, but looked short of match fitness as you’d expect. Hopefully Simon Taylor will be fit for next week. But you still might want to try and slot Hoggy in.
Thom Evans didn’t get any ball in space, despite his incredible pace. Welcome to being a Scotland wing, Thom.
Frank Hadden’s substitution policy of rotating the half-backs for no reason other than his watch tells him to. Unless Blair was injured, why bother taking him off? One could argue that the try he looked like the only prospective creator of would be more important to Scotland’s confidence than giving Parks and Lawson 10 minutes game time. Godman is another player who would have benefited from staying on. Giving him a chance should be just that.
Wayne Barnes’ refusal to give a penalty against New Zealand scrum which was crumbling under all sorts of pressure. Props were kneeling at one point. Other than that I thought Barnes had a pretty good game.
Nick De Luca’s sin binning after only 3 minutes was justified, stupidly playing the ball on the ground. I have a lot of time for him as an attacker and he put in some big hits late in the game, almost atoning for his earlier sins. But he has to cut out the silly stuff.
Also, TV people, do we have to look at Dan Carter all the time? He only played ten minutes, and at scrum half. By the end you’d think he was man of the match. Mikey Blair was nominated for IRB Player of the Year too, you know.
Brewer seems to have instilled some solidity into the set-piece, and while the defence wasn’t quite as reactive as the All Blacks’ scramble it would take time to adjust to the new systems in any case. Perhaps given Edinburgh’s similar inability to cross the line despite masses of pressure, the benefit of the doubt should be given to backs men Hadden and Lineen. My team for next week might be:
Paterson, Evans, Cairns, De Luca, Lamont R, Godman, Blair, Hogg, Barclay, Gray, Taylor, Hines, Murray, Ford, Jacobsen
Fitness allowing, of course. You could switch Paterson and Lamont, but I think Paterson did enough to justify his place at full back regardless of goal kicking, so why not let him be rather than shuffling the poor chap again.
Improvement next weekend is a must, and it’s fairly easy to spot the area for work: scoring tries.