Defence. It is primary to any ball sport. And while you need to score more points than your opposition, absorbing pressure and having a committed defence is key. And this was true on Saturday night in Edinburgh, as the All Blacks defence proved ‘just enough’ to deny Scotland… yet again.
With a blemish free International record, the Scots were determined to make an attempt to beat the New Zealand team for the first time. Even with their best efforts in recent memory though, they were only just short at the last-minute attempt.
Scotland 17 New Zealand 22
‘How close was that’ was an equal reaction from both sides. All Blacks captain Kieran Read called it a “really good Test match”. And the Man of the Match, Scottish player Stuart Hogg was also glowing of the match up.
“We can take a huge amount of confidence out of it. We came very, very close to beating the best team in the world. Maybe another day,” was the fair judgement of the fullback. His team and himself, they all believed they might achieve the result…and came awfully close.
The below footage shows highlights, with the final offensive act of the game coming from the Scots. If only the referee had played more injury time, then this report might be very different.
Scotland Have Belief They Can Beat the Best
From a perspective of the Scottish team, they have grown in confidence over the last three years. Still not yet achieving as regularly as they would want to, but playing to a higher level in recent times. The belief in the side is evident in the style of play.
Fans watching and commentators both will describe the match as full of energy. From the outset, the Scots played the ball. Offloads, quick recycling and never letting the opposition dictate terms. It was shifted across the field–many times the positive attitude and fluid movement was only halted by a dropped pass. Their intent was clear to see.
The visitors felt it too, with comments from head coach Steve Hansen that the Scots “really stood up to be counted”. And the home teams belief translated into a wealth of possession and territory. 77% territory in the second half, for many teams would have amounted to points–and the game conceded.
But not the All Blacks.
All Blacks Defence their Main Weapon at Murrayfield
Without possession for much of the game (60/40) it was a strange sight to see. After 35 minutes, the score read 3-0. The All Blacks had no ball to use, and seemed to play the defender. And that took much of that sides energy, but it was their organization which seemed to be the main weapon on show.
The Murrayfield crowd were delighted with the effort from their team. But with so many little mistakes, it just seemed to deflate so many attacking opportunities. Yet to the credit of John Barclay and his men, they continued their attack right up to the whistle for halftime.
If anything is assumed after 40 minutes in rugby union, it could be the that the All Blacks will want to ‘right the wrongs’ of the first half. Ever truthful to that, first Codie Taylor impersonated Sean Fitzpatrick as the hooker on the wing. And then a second try to Damian McKenzie saw the visitors make a small break on the home team.
— 1 NEWS – Sport (@1NewsSportNZ) November 18, 2017
Yellow Card Trouble Again for All Blacks
It is hard to defend with little ball. So under so much pressure, especially on their own line, the regular issue for this 2017 All Blacks team is ‘cynical offending’. Players are repeatedly seen by the referee to infringe; Kieran Read in Argentina and on Saturday, Sam Cane was issued a yellow card.
The World Champions let their guard down, and with mounting pressure, Scotland forced their mountain of a lock, Jonny Gray over the line. And here we saw the players looking to the passion of the crowd again, to boost their energy. Hogg especially, with his darting runs, was hoping his country men and women would sustain their attack.
All Black defence was still a hard system to breakdown, even when reduced to 14 men. The resilience of the tight five was formidable. Plus, the ever reliable Ryan Crotty – top tackler in this match. A massive 15 tackles, and he only missed two. All Blacks defence statistics like that were spread across the park, and it is was a structured defence which proved it’s worth in Edinburgh.
Key Points: Cool Under Pressure
The other skill that the All Blacks displayed was calmness under pressure. Not rattled, the scrum created a set move opportunity. Aaron Smith to Sonny Bill Williams, who made an brilliant offload. McKenzie shifted the ball to Beauden Barrett, who had doubled-around from first-five. His pace broke the line and he didn’t need his winger,to score — a brilliant movement.
Another example was late in the game, on their own five meter line. A New Zealand scrum popped the Scottish front-row, earning a penalty. Those moments are where the winning of the game is most evident.
Composure is one area where the visitors are always the best exponents of the modern game. Scotland had the belief they might, but the All Blacks had the training to know they could.
Final Ten Minutes, Some of the Best Football Played by Scotland
While dominating the All Blacks is difficult enough, the Scots were guilty of allowing them to get ahead on the scoreboard. The conversion rate of Scottish attack was poor–not that you could deny they were the aggressor.
Down 10-22, it needed a special play. So on their own halfway line, the Scots passed the ball wonderfully, before Hogg chose to put his grubber kick through. Here, Rieko Ioane was slow to turn, with Tommy Seymour pouncing on a ball and had Huw Jones on his inside. The big center rumbled to the line, for the home crowd to erupt.
— Sky Sports Scotland (@ScotlandSky) November 20, 2017
A nominee for Scottish try of the season, it had all the hallmarks of a confident team. And with Finn Russell displaying a radar-boot, the game was back to just five points.
All Blacks Defence Denies Scotland from First Ever Test Win
After Wyatt Crockett had offended, the All Blacks were already a man down. So with their tails up, Scotland had made a game of it. And that is what fans will remember most. Aside from the little mistakes, the half-chances lost, the fans will walk away with belief.
As the final play of the game, a massive effort from the Scots to shift the ball up field, it was unsuccessful. But it was an effort. No penalty kicking to draw the game close from this team. Their was a concerted effort, and that was what pleased Gregor Townsend the most.
“It’s a pity we couldn’t get the try but it was a great effort right to the end.”
Townsend believed his men were close to beating the best. “It looked like Stuart was going to go the whole way, he was so determined. Beauden Barrett is pretty quick too and he managed to get the cover tackle.”
Denied in the end, but matches like this provide ‘big game experience’ that both Townsend and Hansen each will welcome.
Scotland the Brave, Hold Your Heads High
Plenty of positives for Scotland to take out of the game. A five point loss, but in holding the New Zealand team down for much of the game, it can only benefit them in their final International against Australia next week.
For New Zealand, they will feel relieved. Already suffering two losses in a season, they did not want that to be three. The All Blacks defence denied Scotland a first ever Test win. Having to make over 150 tackles, Steve Hansen referred to it as “a real Test match”.
Heading to Cardiff now for the last stop during the November Internationals window, the tourists will be sore. True, they did show resilience, but also true they infringed far too often – 15 penalties and two yellow cards.
Do that in a knockout game in two years time, then Stuart Hogg might be right when he told SkySports, “We’ve just come up short, but maybe next time!”
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