All Blacks hold off Scotland 24-16 at Murrayfield
EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) — New Zealand barely upheld its unbeaten record against Scotland as it overcame errors and the stubborn hosts to prevail 24-16 at Murrayfield on Saturday.
The All Blacks have treated visits to Murrayfield as a little R and R on their end-of-year tours, with six wins by an average of 31 points since 2001.
But a slew of mistakes, including by superstars Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, undermined the All Blacks’ ambition, and raised Scotland hopes of a first victory in 109 years of contests.
The Scots’ closed to within one with 14 minutes to go, then captain and scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw missed a chance for the lead 10 minutes out when his penalty, 30 meters from the left, flew wide right. It was his first miss in five shots, and last shot at goal.
“It was a big chance but it just hung out to the right,” Laidlaw said. “But we win together and we lose together.
“It’s tough to take when you come so close to a good team, but all credit to the All Blacks, they play for 80 minutes every time they take the field, and they got a late try to take the game away from us.
“The boys stuck to it today. We played some fantastic rugby at times, but we’re clearly disappointed.”
New Zealand, which dominated possession and territory in the second spell, finally scored the second try it desperately sought after sustained pressure on the try-line, lock Jeremy Thrush crashing over off ruck ball in the 74th. Colin Slade added the conversion, and the eight-point lead was a dagger in Scottish hearts.
The All Blacks had only two survivors from the 24-21 win over England at Twickenham a week before, and they struggled from the outset for cohesion.
They faced a Scotland side with renewed passion and poise under new Kiwi coach Vern Cotter, and while the Scots didn’t threaten to score a try from phase play, they also were doing a superb job in nullifying New Zealand’s chances, making tackles, and quickly reorganizing their defense.
It took the third-quarter arrival of reinforcements Julian Savea, Sonny Bill Williams, Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, and Luke Romano to inject some urgency and more accuracy to the All Blacks. They eventually broke Scotland’s resolve.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen praised Scotland, and believed it will be a menace to its northern rivals.
“They are a bit like the All Blacks team (today),” he said. “They are young and learning, and will gt a lot out of this game - a lot of confidence for sure.
“By the time the Six Nations comes around, they will be right in it.”
New Zealand was surprisingly off-kilter from the kickoff on a clear, calm night. The fundamental errors piled up, relieving pressure on Scotland, and encouraging the hosts. An early scuffle also showed Scotland was fired up.
The All Blacks scored the opening try, when No. 8 Victor Vito took a bounce pass on halfway, shrugged off midfielder Alex Dunbar, wrong-footed flyhalf Finn Russell, and the cover defense was too late to stop him in the left corner.
Carter, making his first start in a year, missed his first two goalkicks, but he kicked his next three to ensure New Zealand led into the break.
But it was only 14-10, because, moments after Vito’s try, Scotland wing Tommy Seymour intercepted a careless McCaw and ran 40 meters to the posts, repeating his trick from the preceding win over Argentina. Laidlaw converted and added two penalties.
Laidlaw and Slade, who moved from the wing to flyhalf when Carter was replaced in the big swap, exchanged penalties to set up the thrilling finale.
New Zealand pressure finally told, with Savea taking a cross-field kick to continue the attack. It took lots of phases, but Thrush finally angled in off a ruck, and a win was ensured.
The Scots endured their closest defeat to the All Blacks since the 1991 Rugby World Cup.