After a bumper day of rugby yesterday, there was just one Autumn Nations Series match on the Sunday, as Scotland hosted New Zealand. The All Blacks were looking to test some of their depth with a number of changes, but it was new first-choice hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho who drove his way over for he opener after just a couple of minutes. The visitors failed to take the restart though,and the Scots piled the pressure on, until Dalton Papali’i eventually forced a turnover. And just minutes later, a clever grubber out wide released Caden Clarke down the wing, and while the Scottish defence managed to stop him, Jordie Barrett then took advantage of the recovering defence to kick to the corner, where ark Telea dotted down just 6 minutes into his debut. A clever piece of play released Stuart Hogg through the middle and when the fullback kicked on to take advantage of Murrayfield’s deep in goals, he was taken out off the ball by Anton Lienert-Brown in-goal, resulting in a penalty try and a yellow card for the Chiefs centre. And things got better for the Scots just minutes later as the next kiwi attack saw David Havili pass straight into the hands of Darcy Graham, who outpaced Clarke and stepped around Jordie Barrett to score, with Finn Russell—back in the suad and straight back into the 10 shirt following Adam Hastings’ injury—converting to level the scores after 16 minutes. The momentum and belief was with the Scots, and when Hogg kicked into the corner and just failed to complete the tackle on Jordie Barrett on the touchline, he had bought just enough time for Hamish Watson to arrive and play the fullback into touch deep in the All Blacks 22, but as they looked to attack the line, captain Jamie Ritchie was penalised for rolling after the tackle. As Lienert-Brown prepared to return to the pitch, Sam Whitelock was lucky to escape being penalised for a no-arms tackle on Duhan van der Merwe and the 15 men in black were soon back on the attack, the Scottish defence had answers for them this time. As the game approached the half hour, a driving maul from the Scots entered the All Blacks 22 and drew in the defence, and when the ball was spread wide, Darcy Graham just ran out of space and put a foot in touch as he dived for the line. But the maul had drawn a penalty so the hosts had another chance, and a series of hard carries from the forwards drew another penalty beneath the posts, which Russell kicked for the lead. The All Blacks were going through the gears as they looked to get back on top, but the Scottish defence held firm and forced an error from Finlay Christie in the corner, and the pack then won the penalty at the crum to allow them to clean their lines. There was just time for one more Scottish attack before the break, and when Duhan van der Merwe as stopped just short in the corner, the forwards took over with a series of pick and go carries, only to be pinged for sealing off, allowing the All Blacks to kick to touch for a 17-14 halftime score.
An offside penalty against Lienert-Brown allowed Russell to add another 3 points to the scoreline just minutes into the second half. Scotland were looking dangerous every time they entered the kiwis’ 22, but too often failed to convert, and when Stuart Hogg was stopped inches short after a break to the corner, a penalty again allowed the All Blacks to clear their lines. The All Blacks continued to look rattled and the Murrayfield crowd felt like it was beginning to believe, and when the hosts won a scrum penalty in the middle of the field, Russell called for the tee and extended the lead to 9 points. A big turnover at the maul from replacement hooker Codie Taylor gave the All Blacks a scrum in the home 22, and after the pack earned a penalty advantage, Beauden Barrett tried a cross-kick into the corner for Caleb Clarke but overhit it, leaving brother Jordie to kick the 3 points. This appeared to spur on the visitors, who took advantage of a dropped high ball from Hogg to attack into the 22, and when Jack Dempsey was adjudged to have deliberately knocked on as appearing to go for a tackle, the former Wallaby was sent to the bin, and after choosing a scrum to draw in the Scottish pack, it took just a couple of phases before Scott Barrett forced his way over, with Jordie adding the extras to put the visitors back ahead. It looked like the 14 men would just manage to hold out through the rest of the sin bin period, but as the 10 minutes came to an end, they just ran out of numbers on the blind side, allowing Mark Telea to go over in the corner with just 5 minutes left, with Barrett’s touchline conversion making it a two-score game with just minutes remaining. Of course if any team could still snatch victory, it would be one with Finn Russell at 10, and the fly half sent a lovely chip over the head of Caleb Clarke to Darcy Graham, who kicked on and was tripped as he chased, an offence the officials chose to ignore, and the All Blacks saw out the final minutes to secure a 23-31 victory that will leave the hosts wondering what might have been.
Van the man
When you have a player like Duhan van der Merwe in your squad, you want him on the ball as often as possible. Today, Scotland really got his usage right.
The gargantuan wing was being fed the ball as often as possible, and rather than staying on his wing, he looked to bring the ball infield. While it would put him against more physical players, this was clever usage of him, as it meant that the All Blacks couldn’t just push him into touch for an easy turnover, but it also meant that he was drawing in defenders into the middle of the pitch, creating space out wide for Finn Russell to exploit, effectively using him as an extra forward to establish a physical dominance.
And this is how a unit like him should be used: helping to create the physical dominance infield to create space for others, while still having some strike plays to utilise his pace in wider positions where he can then run over smaller wings. The gameplan showed its effectiveness today against the All Blacks, now they need to keep at this, and look how to build off this to further take advantage of the situation.
This was an odd performance from the All Blacks. When they came flying out of the blocks to lead 0-14 after just 8 minutes, I thought that it was going to be a long day for Scotland, but the immediate comeback from the hosts and the manner of it appeared to stun the All Blacks.
It was asif the reminder of their vulnerability left them scared, and while they still frequently made ground in attack, there was not the composure that we are used to, while the spaces weren’t opened sufficiently for them to convert any chances (truly only half-chances if we’re honest) that they were creating. In the end, they had just enough late on as the replacements made a difference, but they must also be thankful that Scotland wasted so many opportunities on the New Zealand try line.
So what happened here? Yes there were a number of changes from recent squads, but Telea aside they are all still highly experienced players who are used to this set-up. Did last week’s canter against Wales lull them into a false sense of security? Or is this just another example of New Zealand under Ian Foster being a shell of the team they used to be?
While they may have come away with the victory, this is just another reminder to the rest of the world that the All Blacks are very beatable right now.