New Zealand. . . .20
WITHOUT ever coming close to threatening the All Blacks' triumphant passage through their tour, Scotland A did at least salvage some of the pride lost by the South in midweek.
There were times when they even managed to make the tourists look ordinary, although one suspects that, with half an eye on Saturday's international at Murrayfield, the All Blacks were holding back some of their aces. But seldom can an All Blacks' midfield have performed so ineptly.
Neither could psychological warfare be held responsible for Matthew Cooper's fall from grace as a goalkicker. Admittedly, he did kick five penalties. But he missed with four other kicks, and he muffed three of them so badly that the reservoir of confidence he has been building up since the opening game against London may well have dried up.
It was as well for the All Blacks that Gary Parker, Scotland A's first-choice kicker, was equally off key, missing with three penalties before surrendering the duties to Michael Dods, who, too late, kicked Scotland's first penalty 13 minutes into the second half.
There were other rarities, a missed tackle by Va'aiga Tuigamala being one of them. Of more concern to the All Blacks will be their muddled midfield. If Marc Ellis does have a part to play in their Test plans - and his blistering acceleration could be a priceless asset - then it should be in the centre and not at fly-half. There is also the continuing problem of the line-out, where a thicket of Scottish jumpers provided a welcoming target for Kevin McKenzie and mopped up many of Sean Fitzpatrick's throws into the bargain. Neither Shade Munro nor Andy Macdonald did his international prospects any harm, but Alan Watt is miscast at loose-head.
The Scots were mostly on the back foot at the scrums, which was a merciful release for the tourists, who were often unsettled by the persistently accurate driving of the Scots' back row, in which Rob Wainwright was vigorously effective. But having worked their way into promising positions the Scots were undone by profligacy. Attention to detail is so important in any confrontation with the All Blacks. The Scots kicked off badly, and they took too many wrong options in midfield, where Ian Jardine was a brick in defence but a pebble in attack.
If the Scots' tackling was of a far higher standard than the South's, there were still some glaring misses, nothing worse than the occasion when John Timu was caught between a rock and a hard place in the oppressive proximity of his goal-line but was allowed to escape, untouched, up the touchline.
The All Blacks were saved on any number of occasions by the length and accuracy of their kicks out of defence, one of the mightiest efforts coming from the boot of the smallest man on the field, Stu Forster, who continues to look a better prospect at scrum-half than Jon Preston. Blair Larsen, who was welcomed on to the field as a replacement for the struggling Steve Gordon, gave the All Blacks additional firepower at the line-out and looks the likelier prospect to partner Ian Jones on Saturday. And Zinzan Brooke's virtuosity at Netherdale may have given him the edge over Paul Henderson, who, like Jamie Joseph, did not look fully fit yesterday.
If the Scots' driving was a little too upright to worry the tourists' defence, their rucking was up to - and occasionally superior to - the All Blacks' on the day. Wainwright is a certainty for the Scottish side at Murrayfield and Carl Hogg could well be beside him in the back row. Brian Redpath played with a great deal more confidence than he had shown at Netherdale, but the greatest comfort to the selectors will be that they can field a pack capable of matching the All Blacks.
Relief, as much as anything else, was the reaction from the Scots' captain, Doug Wyllie, who played his part with two drop goals at the end of robust driving by the forwards. His first stopped the rot after Cooper had kicked two penalties and Ellis had scored the All Blacks' try, having been set up by Arran Pene and Tuigamala. Cooper kicked two more penalties on either side of half time before Dods, with a penalty, and Wyllie, with his second drop goal, brought the Scots as close as they were ever going to get to victory. But they did at least win back some of Scotland's respectability.
SCOTLAND A: M Dods (Gala); K Logan (Stirling County), S Nichol (Selkirk), I Jardine (Stirling County), G Parker (Melrose); D Wyllie (Stewart's/Melville FP, capt), B Redpath (Melrose); A Watt (Glasgow High/Kelvinside), K McKenzie (Stirling County), D Herrington (Heriot's FP), S Munro (Glasgow High/Kelvinside), A Macdonald (Heriot's FP), D McIvor (Edinburgh Academicals), R Wainwright (Edinburgh Academicals), C Hogg (Melrose).
NEW ZEALAND: J Timu (Otago); J Wilson (Otago), F Bunce (North Harbour), M Cooper (Waikato), V Tuigamala (Auckland); M Ellis (Otago), S Forster (Otago); C Dowd (Auckland), S Fitzpatrick (Auckland, capt), O Brown (Auckland), I Jones (North Auckland), S Gordon (Waikato), J Joseph (Otago), P Henderson (Southland), A Pene (Otago). Replacements: 15, Dowd repl M Allen; 38, Gordon, repl by B Larsen.
Referee: T Spreadbury (England).
Scores: Cooper (pen, 4 min, 0-3); Cooper (pen, 19 min, 0-6); Ellis (try, 24 min, 0-11); Wiley (drop goal, 27 min, 3-11); Cooper (pen, 28 min, 3-14); Cooper (pen, 45 min, 3- 17); Dods (pen, 54 min, 6-17); Wiley (drop goal, 63 min, 9-17); Cooper (pen, 75 min, 9- 20).