Opinion – It wasn’t that long ago that people were calling for Codie Taylor to be dropped, TJ Perenara actually was, and Mark Telea wasn’t even in the conversation to get picked at all. All three played big roles in this morning’s 31-23 win over Scotland at Murrayfield.
For a while there, it looked like this was going to be a throwback to when the All Blacks would routinely tear a side apart within the opening stages and leave them wondering just what happened. The first 12 minutes or so was almost flawless, with Scott Barrett opening the scoring in very similar circumstances to Taylor’s first try last weekend.
The main thing we needed to see from this All Black team is the ruthlessness that has returned on attack, combined with the patience on defence. Ardie Savea’s turnover that eventually led to Telea’s first try was masterful, as the winger enjoyed a productive start to his test career.
But what happened next definitely was a throwback to a time that All Black fans would rather forget: earlier this year. The Scots roared back like Ireland did in Dunedin and the Pumas did in Christchurch, frustrating the All Blacks with long periods of possession. The penalty try from Anton Lienart-Brown’s tackle on Stuart Hogg was foolish, his absence due to the automatic yellow card meant the All Black centre was conspicuously absent when Scotland really started to dominate.
David Havili’s pass that led to the scores being level was so ill-judged Darcy Graham wasn’t even trying to catch it before he scooted away. The most alarming part of the rest of the first half was that Scotland really should have scored two more tries and had a much higher lead than three points at the break.
The malaise continued into the second half, with a string of needless penalties helping Scotland set up shop in the All Black half. Finn Russell, who seemed to be the only player anyone wanted to talk about all week, was happy to bang through penalties. As the temperature inside Murrayfield plummeted, hopes of history being made soared.
It took the emptying of the bench and rugby’s worst rule to arrest the situation for the All Blacks. Codie Taylor’s turnover led to the sequence of events that led to Jack Dempsey being binned after he stuck his hand out to deflect a Perenara pass, which meant Scott Barrett could crash over for his second and put the All Blacks back in the lead.
After that it was simply a case of the All Blacks grinding it out, which was an encouraging sight for a team that did the same at Ellis Park and found a way to win in Melbourne. Telea’s finish for his second capped off a fine debut.
The All Blacks managed to turn a catastrophic sin binning and being down at halftime into a win, while managing to get on the right side (for the most part) of referee Frank Murphy when it counted. Perenara’s constant chatter and decision-making certainly made a difference in the backs after he was subbed on for Christie, while Taylor’s presence had the same effect on the forwards.
In a way, this was the most impressive part of the All Black performance. They’ve come a long way this season from being a team that plays badly and loses to one that can pull out the goods when it matters. Was it a great performance? No, because Scotland played all the rugby for the better part of an hour. Was it a good sign going forward? Considering that this has been almost a rebuilding on the go sort of year for the All Blacks, absolutely, because they still ended up winning. England at Twickenham next weekend stands as the final chance to answer questions about just where they’re at heading into a World Cup year.
Scotland should be disappointed, though. Unlike Wales last weekend, they had the winning of the game in their control and more importantly the belief, but they let their standards drop at the worst possible time. That’s twice in a row they’ve been within touching distance of their first ever win over the All Blacks, it may be a while before they get another chance.
Story Credit: rnz.co.nz