Sunday 17 December 2017

Ruthless All Blacks send out warning to Ireland

Scotland 3 New Zealand 49

Peter Bills

Less than 20 minutes into this game, with the All Blacks already 21-3 ahead, a lone piper struck up a Scottish lament at Murrayfield. It should have been 'The Last Post', for the New Zealanders went on to record their biggest ever margin of victory against a Scotland side in Edinburgh.

If ever you wanted to see the personification of men against boys in Test rugby, this was surely it. The New Zealanders brought an awesome physicality to this match which simply blew away the Scots. They'll do the same to Ireland in Dublin next Saturday, too, unless Declan Kidney can turn conjuror and transform his struggling outfit into a credible side. You wouldn't want Ireland's last euro resting on it.

Beaten by Australia in Hong Kong two weeks back and not entirely convincing winners over England at Twickenham last weekend, this coruscating All Blacks performance was out of the same drawer as those they produced in the first half of the Tri Nations tournament back in July. There was a clinical, ruthless precision to New Zealand's finishing yesterday. Yet they achieved this simply by doing the basics properly. They made the ball do the work, took out opponents by passing at the optimum moment and their support work for the ball carrier was exemplary. None of this is rocket science but, once again, it was an object lesson to the northern hemisphere teams. Murrayfield was as silent as an old battlefield, the conflict long resolved. And that was with an hour of the game still remaining.

Scotland paid a terrible price for their own careless mistakes. Dan Parks missed touch from an early penalty and Hosea Gear finished off the counter-attack movement under the posts. Next, Scotland turned over possession on the halfway line and Dan Carter, ably assisted by Isaia Toeava, completed the sweeping attack by scoring by the posts.

Carter then put Mils Muliaina over unopposed with an inside pass from the touchline and Gear added his second in the 26th minute, slipping through weak tackling to score. 3-28 and the game was over. Only the final tally remained to be decided.

The all-consuming power of these New Zealanders at the breakdown is the key to their game. It ensures rapid second- phase possession for a lethal back line that was in no way weakened by the replacement of Ma'a Nonu with Sonny Bill Williams, who finished up man of the match.

So how can Ireland hope to avoid a similar fate to the Scots? Somehow, the Irish must compete at the breakdown and sacrifice their bodies in all phases. If they don't, they have no chance. They will also require iron-like concentration and focus both in attack and defence. The All Blacks made six linebreaks to none in the first half alone.

Scotland were brave and did their best. But they made mistakes because they were subjected to such intense pressure and could not live with it. Nor could they match the speed of their opponents or the off-loading of the New Zealanders in contact, especially Williams.

The rout continued in the second half, Carter's immaculate pick-up and Williams' neat off-load in the tackle putting Muliaina over for his second try. And at 3-35, the All Blacks began to ring the changes. Dan Carter and Richie McCaw were pulled off with almost half an hour left to rest for the Irish Test. Ideal for the All Blacks but bad news for Ireland.

Scotland's pride meant heads did not sag. But even when they had attacking opportunities, they ran into the flexible wall of the All Blacks scrambling defence -- the difference in class between the two teams as great as the distance from Edinburgh to Auckland.

If ever there was a sobering day for rugby in the northern hemisphere, especially with a Rugby World Cup less than 12 months away, this was surely it. Irish brows will be mighty furrowed this morning and with good reason. Only they and Wales stand between these All Blacks and yet another northern hemisphere Grand Slam. There isn't a gap between rugby in the two hemispheres when it comes to the best. More like a chasm.

Scorers -- Scotland: Parks pen. New Zealand: Gear (2), Muliaina (2), Carter, Smith, Ellis tries; Carter, Donald 2 cons each.

Scotland: H Southwell; R Lamont (N Walker 40), M Evans, G Morrison, S Lamont; D Parks (R Jackson 67), M Blair (capt) (G Laidlaw 36); A Jacobsen, R Ford (S Lawson 64), E Murray (A Dickenson 65), R Gray, J Hamilton (N Hines 40), K Brown (R Rennie 64), J Barclay, R Vernon.

New Zealand: M Muliaina; I Toeava, C Smith, S Williams, H Gear; D Carter (S Donald 50), J Cowan (A Ellis 58); A Woodcock, H Elliot (A Hore 60), O Franks (J Afoa 53), B Thorn (A Boric 57), S Whitelock, L Messam, R McCaw (capt ) (D Braid 57), K Read.

Referee: D Pearson (England)

Sunday Independent

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