New Zealand handed Scotland a rugby masterclass in front of a sold-out Murrayfield, winning 51-22 on remembrance Sunday.
Despite the weighty score-line, Scotland can be proud of being the only team to put three tries past the All Blacks this year, made more impressive as they faced a team smarting from narrowly missing out on a world-record win streak after drawing 18-all with the Wallabies last month.
Irresistible backs play resulted in four first-half tries from Dagg, Savea, Jane and Hore. Scotland responding with two of their own, firstly from a Scott intercept which sent Tim Visser through early on before Geoff Cross barged over in the last play of the half.
The second half saw a resurgent Scotland bravely pressurise New Zealand, their tenacity and territory yielding another try for Visser. New Zealand were unfazed, though, and although noticeably slowing with the result largely decided, Carter conjured up another two further tries for Savea and Smith.
Scotland, though clearly outclassed, were competitive and hit hard, Gray and Denton proving their Lions credentials with hearty drives and dynamism in spades whilst the flying Dutchman Tim Visser, recently recruited from the Low Countries, proved that he may be the answer to Scotland’s annual Six Nations try drought.
New Zealand, however, were truly irresistible, largely thanks to Dan Carter. All pre-match media coverage compared the match-up to football’s midweek Celtic vs. Barcelona upset – Dan Carter proved to be rugby’s own Lionel Messi as he waltzed through non-existent gaps, nailed touchline conversions and played the part of puppet master, pulling all the right strings.
Both teams opened shakily, with Scotland giving away two kickable penalties, Carter uncharacteristically missing the second. Carter then compounded the error by giving away a sloppy interception which Scott seized upon before offloading to Visser who sprinted in for Scotland to take the lead.
Carter, determined to redeem himself, ghosted through tackles and sprinted into the Scottish 22. A few phases later he once again jinked through, with Dagg, seemingly an omnipresent threat from fullback, took an offload to run in New Zealand’s first try.
Flowing All Black forays were quite simply poetry in motion, the backline poised perfectly, running directly with deft offloading that built momentum like a well-oiled machine; props popped up on the wing to provide hot-potato passing straight out of the handbook – and straight into the corner for tries galore.
Scotland worked their way upfield with brave, crashing drvies from the likes of Denton and Gray allowed Cross to burrow through for a score.
They looked to carry the momentum into the second half, and played with genuine belief despite the score, putting their faith in the forwards, kicking all penalties to touch and implementing the catch and drive, forwards throwing themselves into stubborn All Black defenders and fulfilling coach Andy Robinson’s pre-match promise to “go toe-to-toe in a physical contest”.
Their control of territory allowed an opportunist second for Visser after Laidlaw cleverly kicked the stray ball out of a New Zealand ruck.
For all their guts, pressure, possession and territory, Carter was able to seal the rout with yet more fantastic running and offloading, sending Smith over in the 76th minute.
Scotland can take many positives into games against South Africa and Tonga from a determined performance, whilst other Home Nations will applaud their efforts and view their dates with the All Blacks with trepidation.