Rugby Union: All Blacks seek more than the sublime: In crushing the Scots New Zealand produced one of the great Test performances of the modern era, argues Steve Bale, Rugby Union Correspondent

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Scotland. . . . 15

New Zealand. . .51

THERE is something profoundly unsettling about listening to the All Blacks after they have won a match like this. For goodness sake, 51 points and all the records that go with it and they are still not satisfied.

Laurie Mains was pleased, sort of, but the line-out was a bit creaky in the second half and the mental approach was always something for a coach to work on. So don't these people ever rest content? The answer is no, not really, because no performance, however good it looks, is perfect. It's why they have been so good, so often.

You might imagine, for instance, that Jeff Wilson would be pretty chuffed after becoming the first New Zealand Test player to score three debut tries. Only up to a point. 'I managed to get through the game without too many mistakes,' he said, profoundly relieved rather than ecstatic.

The All Blacks had destroyed the Scots with seven tries, by a record margin and total. To any dispassionate observer and even some - like the Scotland captain, Gavin Hastings - who were not, it was as complete an exhibition as has been seen in recent times.

The technical excellence of much of the New Zealand forwards' work and the willingness of the backs to move the ball into space just as much as take it into contact, and above all the breathtaking simplicity of it all, made this a landmark example of rugby played with the utmost seriousness but giving the greatest pleasure.

'They involved all 15 men. They played some very open, exciting rugby. They were dominant up front and were running at pace and with power in the backs.' Hastings's own admiring analysis could not be bettered, and even the Lions captain's talismanic property meant very little once the All Blacks were playing in such a manner. 'It was all too much for Scotland,' he sighed.

Their self-criticism is almost as impressive as their rugby - which is why England had better watch out and why there remains such a gulf between the rugby of these islands, whether collectively as Lions or individually as countries, and that of New Zealand. It is all about attitude.

Scotland have never beaten New Zealand, indeed no All Blacks team have ever lost a match in Scotland. So imagine the celebrations there would have been if somehow Hastings and his men had prevailed, even by a point. On the other hand, imagine if the All Blacks had won by a point; it would have been a failure.

That is the difference. New Zealand, in their beautiful, terrifying arrogance, expect and demand to beat us, whoever we may be: England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales. And even when they beat us by piling up a half-century it is not an end in itself but merely a means to an end, which in this case is beating England at Twickenham. And then the Barbarians in Cardiff.

All right, there was some acknowledgement that something had happened. 'I would probably say it was the most satisfying performance I've been involved in in terms of Test matches, the commitment of the guys, the mental aggression and the intensity over 80 minutes, the hunger they had for the game,' Sean Fitzpatrick, the New Zealand captain, admitted.

It had been a rude, but definitely not crude, awakening for Scots who had forgotten the South's 84-5 defeat as an aberration and had instead come to rely on the All Black discomfiture of the Scotland A game in Glasgow the previous Saturday as their benchmark.

'Some of the players who played in the A-game believed that was international rugby - but true Test rugby was on show here,' Douglas Morgan, the Scotland coach, said. 'A large number of those players played against them last week; perhaps a few didn't realise how many gears they were going to be asked to go up.'

This was a fair point, though Morgan had warned all along that what had happened against the A team was relevant to the All Blacks only in as much as it gave them things to work on. Thus everything that had gone wrong against Scotland A, from the line-out to the sluggish midfield, was vastly improved for the match that mattered.

In the end the line-out was shared but Andy Macdonald, so productive in Glasgow, was virtually shut out and much of the Scots' possession in this area was worse than useless. The All Blacks had the nudge in the scrums too, but it was in the rucks and mauls that they were in a superior class even against Scotland's biggest pack.

When, say, half a dozen men drive into a ruck like the Scots it is, well, six men doing it. When half a dozen All Blacks drive into a ruck, it is an elemental force that adds up to much more than the sum of its parts because they do it with perfect technique and above all together, as one.

So Scotland were smashed off the 50-50 ball time after time, never once looked capable of a try even when they were deep in New Zealand territory and four penalties by Hastings plus one by Craig Chalmers when the captain was temporarily off the field was the summit of their endeavour. So much for Hastings's incurable optimism.

It became false optimism as soon as Marc Ellis scored the first try after 15 minutes. In its way, it was characteristic, because a move that threatened to break down half a dozen times in half a dozen seconds was sustained by the certain presence each time of a supporting player.

For a while New Zealand scored a try whenever Hastings kicked a penalty, which was hard to bear for the Scots but typically All Black. Wilson's and Zinzan Brooke's tries helped take the score to 22-9 by half-time and, for all the jeering, there was some glorious rugby in the creation of Frank Bunce's, Ellis's second and Wilson's hat-trick in the second half.

'You've got to believe in yourselves,' Kenny Milne, acting captain while Hastings was having four stitches in a cut hand, exhorted the Scottish players. He was asking the impossible.

Scotland: Penalties G Hastings 4, Chalmers. New Zealand: Tries Wilson 3, Ellis 2, Brooke, Bunce; Conversions Cooper 4, Wilson; Penalties Cooper 2.

SCOTLAND: G Hastings (Watsonians); A Stanger (Hawick), I Jardine (Stirling County), G Shiel (Melrose), S Hastings (Watsonians); C Chalmers (Melrose), A Nicol (Dundee HSFP); A Watt (Glasgow High / Kelvinside), K Milne (Heriot's FP), P Burnell, D Cronin (London Scottish), A Macdonald (Heriot's FP), D McIvor (Edinburgh Academicals), G Weir (Melrose), R Wainwright (Edinburgh Academicals). Replacements: D Wyllie (Stewart's / Melville FP) for Chalmers, 57; C Hogg (Melrose) for Cronin, 61. Temporary substitutes: B Redpath (Melrose) for Nicol, 7-9; K Logan (Stirling County) for G Hastings, 36-40.

NEW ZEALAND: J Timu; J Wilson (Otago), F Bunce (North Harbour), M Cooper (Waikato), V Tuigamala (Auckland); M Ellis, S Forster (Otago); C Dowd, S Fitzpatrick (capt), O Brown (Auckland), S Gordon (Waikato), I Jones (North Auckland), J Joseph, A Pene (Otago), Z Brooke (Auckland). Replacement: E Clarke (Auckland) for Cooper, 76.

Referee: F Burger (South Africa).

(Photograph omitted)

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