An hour or so after the final whistle in Edinburgh on Saturday it seemed that Tana Umaga had already moved on swiftly to pastures new. The captain of the new millennium New Zealand Grand Slammers entered the press conference at Murrayfield and parked himself in the seat at the top table reserved for the All Black coach. "Sorry, I should know my place, shouldn't I?" he said when Graham Henry asked him to move.
It became clear that Umaga did indeed know where his place henceforth would be - sitting in the seat of a spectator, putting his feet up, it would seem. For the time being, though, the All Blacks' totemic team-leader is politely refusing to inform the world of his intentions. The long goodbye will continue until he gets back to The Land of the Long White Cloud. "I just want to sit back and reflect on what we've done this year," Umaga said. "I've just been talking to a great All Black, in Frank Bunce, and he said, 'You never make these decisions straight after games'. We'll just have to wait and see."
Henry, for his part, was anxious for his "very special leader" to bask in the glow of the "very remarkable" achievements to which he had guided them in 2005: a clean sweep against the British Lions, a Bledisloe Cup, a Tri-Nations title, and now only the second All Black Grand Slam of the four home nations in 100 years. Asked how central his special captain would be to his 2007 World Cup plans, though, Henry pointedly attempted something of a Daniel Carter sidestep. "I think we should move on from this questioning, quite frankly," he said.
On the pitch at Murrayfield, at the end of a marathon season, Umaga showed further signs of the fatigue which has crept into his game in recent weeks. In all probability, these all-conquering All Blacks will move on towards 2007 with Richie McCaw installed in the captain's seat. Henry's gaze remains fixed on the big prize, the William Webb Ellis Cup, and preparing for the challenge of fighting for it on Gallic soil in 2007 with a tour based in France next year was, he confessed, always going to be a higher priority than attempting to emulate Graham Mourie's Grand Slam-winning side of 1978.
"We've had about 40 players who have played in Test matches over the last 12 months," Henry said, reflecting on a momentous 2005 and looking ahead to the challenges of the new year. "That creates great competition, and competition produces better players, so the foundation has been laid." That cornerstone has been laid on a mightily impressive bed of 11 wins out of 12 in 2005.
Not that the slam was secured with the grandest of finales. There were precious few moments of All Black magic. In fact, it took a disappearing act by the Scots at a restart to present Rico Gear with try No 1, and the home side produced a similar trick in defence to open the barn door through which Nick Evans claimed score No 2. When the ball-juggling skills of James Ryan and Sione Lauaki conjured a third try, the New Zealanders had a 19-point cushion and the slam in the bag with more than a half still to play.
The biggest thrill of the afternoon came not from a man in black but one in white, Sean Lamont launching Scotland's spirited second-half display with a blistering 70-yard break that was finally halted by New Zealand's captain. Now, it seems, it is only a matter of time before Umaga brings a halt to a run of his own, as an All Black of supreme distinction.
Scotland: Try Webster; Conversion Paterson; Penalty Paterson. New Zealand: Tries: Gear 2, Evans, Lauaki. Conversions: Evans 2, L MacDonald. Penalty: Evans.
Scotland: H Southwell; C Paterson, M Di Rollo (all Edinburgh), A Henderson (Glasgow), S Lamont (Northampton); D Parks (Glasgow), C Cusiter (Borders); G Kerr (Leeds), S Lawson (Glasgow), B Douglas (Borders), C Hamilton (Glasgow), S Murray (Edinburgh), J White (Sale, capt), A Hogg, S Taylor (both Edinburgh). Replacements: M Blair (Edinburgh) for Cusiter, 20; A Kellock (Edinburgh) for Hamilton, 40; S Webster (Edinburgh) for Di Rollo, 56; D Hall (Edinburgh) for Lawson, 60; C Smith (Edinburgh) for Douglas, 60; P Godman (Edinburgh) for Parks, 67.
New Zealand: I Toeava (Auckland); R Gear (Nelson Bays), C Smith (Wellington), T Umaga (Wellington, capt), J Rokocoko (Auckland); N Evans (Otago), P Weepu (Waikato); S Taumoepeau (Auckland), A Oliver (Otago), J Afoa (Auckland), C Jack (Canterbury), J Ryan (Otago), A Macdonald (Auckland), R McCaw (Canterbury), S Lauaki (Waikato). Replacements: M Nonu (Wellington) for Smith, 40; M Tuiali'i (Canterbury) for McCaw, 45; A Hore (Taranaki) for Oliver, 47; J Eaton (Taranaki) for Ryan, 63; J Cowan (Southland) for Weepu, 63; N Tialata (Wellington) for Taumoepeau, 69; L MacDonald (Canterbury) for Evans, 69.
Referee: N Whitehouse (Wales).Reuse content