A STIRRING match of full-throttle rugby, and a sense throughout that history could be made with a first-ever Scotland victory over New Zealand.
The All Blacks dominated possession and territory, but they let their control of the scoreboard slip, and they only put the result beyond doubt when they thrust lock Jeremy Thrush over for their second try six minutes from the end.
Of course allowances can be made for the fact New Zealand chose a crop of second-stringers, but nobody could persuade the Murrayfield crowd that the Scots have not turned a corner under coach Vern Cotter. They played with heart and passion and skill throughout, and just a little more precision in some of their moves would have put them in front at the end.
On a dark Edinburgh evening, the crowd had taken the a cappella version of Flower of Scotland to a deafening level, and the noise levels were kept up as the New Zealanders went through their haka. If the preliminaries set a confrontational tone, it was maintained at the very first scrum, one of those rutting-stag affairs in which both sides refused to yield an inch.
That gave way to such a ferocious passage of rucking that you suspected the Scots had been studying their 1990 Grand Slam videos by way of preparation rather than anything the All Blacks have been up to just lately. But the onslaught was over quickly, and the first chance of points came when the Scots were penalised in a ruck after seven minutes. However, Dan Carter’s effort drifted wide.
The relief was only temporary. A couple of minutes later, the All Blacks spread the ball to the left, where Victor Vito came thundering into the move. The No. 8 was a long way out, but he shook off one weak tackle and had built a fair head of steam by the time he got close to the line.
Greig Laidlaw and Stuart Hogg did their best to stop him, but they were no more than speed bumps to the hard-charging Vito, who stretched out to score.
The replays showed that Richie McCaw had got away with a blatant knock-on in the build-up, but indignant Scots had their revenge a few moments later when, with New Zealand building a move deep on their own half, McCaw telegraphed notice of his pass as he tried to ship the ball on. Tommy Seymour read it brilliantly, snatched the ball from the air and raced away for a try.
But the two-point difference had a more enervating effect on the All Blacks than it had for the Scots, and the world champions dominated for a good 20 minutes after the Scottish try.
Carter put New Zealand back in front with a couple of penalties, and there was a feeling around Murrayfield at that point that another All Blacks try would be a tipping point from which the Scots would have no way back. But they defended stoutly and countered with vigour, if no great accuracy at times.
Still, they did cause the chaos they had promised, and they forced another penalty, which Laidlaw duly hammered over in the 36th minute. Carter cancelled it out with the last kick of the half, taking the All Blacks’ interval lead to 14-10.
With 65 minutes gone on the clock, the territory statistics told a story of overwhelming New Zealand dominance, even if the scoreboard seemed to have gone to sleep.
It was woken just after that mark when Colin Slade, taking over from the recently departed Carter as kicker, prodded another penalty over. Yet at the restart breakdown, a New Zealander was pinged for holding on to the ball, and Laidlaw cut the deficit to one point again. Staggeringly, Laidlaw had another chance, this time to take the lead, soon afterwards, but the scrum-half pushed it wide.
New Zealand rallied again, piled forward and sent Thrush over from short range. Slade’s conversion put them a critical eight points ahead. They were relieved at the finish, and that alone is a measure of how far Scotland have come.
Scorers — Scotland: T Seymour try; Laidlaw 3 pens, con. New Zealand: V Vito, J Thrush try each; Carter 3 pens; Slade pen, con.
Scotland: S Hogg, S Maitland, M Bennett, A Dunbar, T Seymour, F Russell (D Weir 61), G Laidlaw (F Brown 76); A Dickinson, R Ford (C Cusiter 76), E Murray, R Gray, J Gray, R Harley, B Cowan, A Ashe (J Beattie 58)
New Zealand: B Smith, C Slade, M Fekitoa (SB Williams), R Crotty, C Piutau, D Carter (J Savea 55), TJ Perenara; J Moody (W Crockett 52), J Parsons (D Coles 47), C Faumuina, J Thrush, D Bird (L Romano 52), R McCaw, S Cane, V