They got Sir Chris Hoy to present the match ball here in the west end of Edinburgh yesterday but any chance of Scotland putting an historical spoke in the wheels of the planet’s No 1 rugby nation disappeared with some All Black magic conjured up by Dan Carter in the second quarter.
Unfortunately for New Zealand, as they opened their end-of-year European tour by matching their record points tally away to the Scots, there was a touch of the dark arts too.
Indeed, the chances are that Adam Thomson will be subjected to some kind of disappearing act, the blindside flanker having clearly placed a boot on the head of the prone Alasdair Strokosch five minutes into the second half. The offence drew a yellow card but will surely lead to further punishment before New Zealand’s remaining three tour fixtures against Italy, Wales and England, although Strokosch was quick to speak in mitigation, saying: “If it had been intentional he’d have done a lot more damage. It didn’t feel like a stamp.”
The class that Carter stamped on proceedings, however, was unmistakable. The outside-half gifted Scotland the opening try – the first of two by the Dutch-born flying wing Tim Visser – but proceeded to conjure a hatful for his own team as the world champions extended their unbeaten run to 18 matches and equalled their highest ever points tally at the home of Scottish rugby, the 51 scored here by the All Black class of 1993.
Carter did not manage to cross the whitewash himself but created the vast bulk of New Zealand’s six tries, converting them all and landing three out of four penalty attempts to extend his all-time international record points tally by 21. Andy Robinson – whose losing team had the consolation of becoming the first to put three tries past the All Blacks in 2012, and who lost openside flanker Ross Rennie with a dislocated shoulder – could not help but admire the kind of mercurial play that was up there with the Welsh wizard fly-halves of yore, Barry John and Phil Bennett.
“When you give a guy like that time and space he’ll pull the strings,” Scotland’s head coach reflected. “It’s the quality that he has of getting into a rhythm as if he’s going to pass the ball and then he takes a hole through you. He just sucks you into thinking he’s going to pass.”
For Carter, it was all about sucking the memory of his last outing into a void. That last-gasp drop-goal miss in the 18-18 draw against the Wallabies in Brisbane started to fade with a second-minute penalty success but then the Canterbury Crusader produced another blip – a telegraphed pass that Matt Scott intercepted and fed on for Visser to run in the opening try. Greig Laidlaw’s conversion furnished Scotland with a 7-3 lead with 13 minutes on the clock.
Murrayfield erupted in celebration and there was also a reaction from the man in the All Black No 10 jersey. Six minutes later, from a throw to the front of a line-out on the right, New Zealand clicked into attacking gear with Carter at his orchestrating best. There were a couple of sidesteps that had the home defence bamboozled, allowing full-back Israel Dagg – soon to depart with a badly bruised buttock – to score to the right of the posts.
Carter converted and, though Laidlaw banged over a penalty to temporarily level the scores at 10-10, the All Blacks were in all-out blitz mode. Carter nudged them ahead with a penalty, then was involved in the sweeping cross-field move that started with No 8 Victor Vito making inroads on the right and finished with centre Ben Smith feeding wing Julian Savea for a score on the left.
It was the first of three All Black tries in a mesmerising eight-minute spell. There was a sublimely deft pass from Thomson as New Zealand exploited a five-on-three attack on the right, wing Cory Jane applying the scoring touch in the corner. Then veteran hooker Andrew Hore ghosted through Geoff Cross, Scotland’s tighthead prop, to score the tourists’ try number four.
Carter’s conversion made it 34-10 with 38 minutes on the clock. Scotland were staring down the barrel of another record home defeat but proceeded to make use of their own ammunition. Piri Weepu held up Scott on the line but Cross made amends for his defensive error, crashing over from close range for his first international try.
The All Blacks had a 34-17 cushion at the interval but then made life uncomfortable for themselves, losing Thomson to the sin bin in the 45th minute. Scotland took advantage of their numerical advantage, scrum-half Mike Blair feeding Visser for his second try. The strapping wing – a flanker for England Under 18s while at Barnard Castle school – now has four tries in three games for his adopted country.
Up in the West Stand, Sir Chris joined the celebrations. In his school days, at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh, the future gold medal pedal-pusher was an outside-half. He knows a Midas sporting touch when he sees one and there were two more to come from the genius in the New Zealand No 10 shirt – a cross-field kick for Savea to score his second try in the left corner, then some more magical running and feinting to set up Smith in the corner.
“Yeah, he’s pretty handy with the ball, and pretty handy with the boot too,” Steve Hansen, the visiting head coach, said. He is that.
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