24 Sep

Scotland v All Blacks, Edinburgh, 24 September 2007
by Tracey Nelson
24 Sep 2007

OK, so who was the halfwit from the RWC organising committee who gave the go-ahead for all the team jerseys and alternate strips for this tournament? Is he blind, or just did it in the dark? The moment the two teams ran onto the field for this third pool game the entire crowd at Murrayfield all started gaping in disbelief at the close resemblence of the two strips.

The All Blacks, having lost the coin toss that decided who had to wear their alternate strip (given that our normal jersey is black and Scotland’s is navy blue) were decked out in the silver/grey panelled shirts with black shorts and sock. But Scotland ran out in grey and navy panelled jerseys, with the white cross of St Andrew across their chests, navy shorts and navy socks on. Essentially both teams were wearing grey jerseys. Which begs the questions, why didn’t we just wear our normal black jerseys because it would have made life a hell of a lot easier not just for the spectators but I’ve no doubt the players themselves.

Given the Scots weren’t playing their strongest XV for this match, having rested 13 of their top line up, there was huge expectation that something resembling a cricket score would be mounted by the All Blacks. But despite denying Scotland any points during the 80 minutes, the All Blacks failed to produce the consumate drubbing many of their supporters were hoping for. Indeed, many fans walked away from the stadium feeling somewhat deflated if conversations in bars afterwards were anything to go by.

Kudos to Scotland, they defended ferociously for most of the game, although quite how thier fullback Hugo Southwell managed to keep getting up from some of the bone-crunchihg collisions he was involved in (particularly when Tony Woodcock went head on into his ribs for a try disallowed due to a prior forward pass) is nothing short of miraculous.

The All Blacks started well enough with a very slickly performed set-piece move from a 5m attacking scrum putting McCaw over for a try after 5 minutes. Shortly after that Doug Howlett crossed over in the corner to take his place as New Zealand’s greatest ever try scorer, just reward for one of our best finishers. However, the persistence and tenacity of the Scottish defence meant the remainder of the game was punctuated by numerous handling errors by the All Blacks, including a large tally of foward passes that continued to mount throughout. There were also some lineout wobbles, although it must be conceded that the Scots do have a very good lineout. Which is more than can be said for their scrum, which struggled throughout the game until South African referee, Marius Jonkers, lost patience with Scotland and started dishing out penalties as a result of their inability to maintain the binds in the front row.

The most notable thing about this game, in contrast to the two previous pool games, was the apparent failure of the All Blacks to be able to put the man into the gap and let the passes go. Initially there was a degree of frustration about this, but as the game wore on it became apparent that like the spectators the players were having problems sighting their team mates when the two backlines met. While this could be taken as a negative, there were some positive outcomes too – the All Blacks have conceded quite a few intercept passes in the last two games, one of which led to a try, but in this game they did not offer up the same chances to Scotland and overall against a fast defensive line, there were very few 50/50 passes thrown.

Defensively the All Blacks would have to feel pretty pleased about their efforts, particularly during the first half when Scotland mounted one very strong attack that was eventually repelled. They did enough on attack to win the game by 40 points without having to show too much of their hand heading into the quarter finals. The only real cloud was a calf injury early on in the game to fullback Leon MacDonald that eventually saw him leave the field to be replaced by Nick Evans. That, and an uncharacteristically bad day at the office for Dan Carter with the boot missing no less than 5 place kicks at goal.

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