If anyone was expecting the All Black Experimentalists to be at sixes and sevens in Edinburgh yesterday evening, what with the regal Richie McCaw shifted from his throne on the openside flank to the unfamiliar realms of the blindside, they were not entirely disappointed.
Despite the unfamiliar combinations deployed by the world champions, with fourth-choice fly-half Colin Slade on the right wing and 13 changes in personnel from the XV that saw off England at Twickenham seven days previously, Steve Hansen’s tinkering added up to another victory for New Zealand against Scotland. Only just, mind.
Since the All Blacks Originals pitched up at Inverleith back in 1905, Scotland have never got the better of them. Until the 74th minute yesterday they were within a point of the world champions, but then a try by lock Jeremy Thrush and conversion by Slade got the odd-looking All Blacks off the hook.
Dan Carter was making his first start for New Zealand for 12 months and the Canterbury Crusader showed signs of rust, pushing wide an early penalty and also his conversion attempt after the All Blacks sneaked the opening try in the 10th minute. The No 8 Victor Vito launched a 30-metre break on the left wing and held off both full-back Stuart Hogg and the Scotland captain, Greig Laidlaw, to score in the corner.
Two minutes later the Scotland winger Tommy Seymour intercepted a pass from McCaw and ran 20 metres to claim Scotland’s first try. Laidlaw landed the conversion, furnishing Scotland with a 7-5 lead that they managed to hold on to until the 27th minute before Carter landed the first of two penalty successes that nudged the visitors into an 11-7 lead. Laidlaw replied with a penalty at the other end, but Carter nailed his third just before the interval to give New Zealand a 14-10 half-time lead.
It was the closest Scotland had been to the All Blacks at the halfway stage of a contest since 1991, and they attacked from the off in the second period. The result was a 45th minute penalty that Laidlaw landed to pull the gap back to 14-13.
The contest remained on that one-point knife edge until the 65th minute. Slade, entrusted with kicking duties after the withdrawal of Carter, stretched the New Zealand lead to 17-13 with a penalty but Laidlaw replied with his third penalty success two minutes later.
Eight minutes from time Laidlaw had the chance to put Scotland ahead but pushed a penalty wide – his first miss in five attempts at the posts. Then Jermey Thrush barged over in the right corner, Slade converted and Scotland’s shot at history had gone.
Scotland: S Hogg; S Maitland, M Bennett (S Lamont, 13), A Dunbar, T Seymour; F Russell (D Weir, 26-32, 61), G Laidlaw (capt; C Cusiter, 75)); A Dickinson (G Reid, 70), R Ford (F Brown, 75), E Murray (G Cross, 31), R Gray, J Gray, R Harley, B Cowan (D Denton, 73), A Ashe (J Beattie, 57).
New Zealand: B Smith; C Slade, M Fekitoa (S B Williams, 56), R Crotty, C Piutau; D Carter (J Savea, 56), T J Perenara A Pulu, 79); J Moody (W Crockett, 52), J Parsons (D Coles, 45), C Faumuina (B Franks, 56), J Thrush, D Bird (LRomano, 52), R McCaw (capt), S Cane, V Vito (L Messam, 38).
Referee: R Pointe (France).
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies