All Blacks coach Steve Hansen had no regrets about risking defeat against Scotland by fielding an experimental young side at Murrayfield, insisting that the close call of a contest that ended in a 24-16 victory for the reigning world champions was “a perfect game for us.”
New Zealand have never lost to Scotland, but the hosts were scenting a historic victory as they entered the final 10 minutes just 17-16 down against an All Blacks side featuring 13 changes in personnel from the 15 who started the 24-21 win against England at Twickenham seven days previously.
It took a 74th-minute try from Hurricanes lock Jeremy Thrush and a conversion by Colin Slade, who started on the right wing, but switched to the familiar realm of flyhalf after the 56th minute substitution of Dan Carter, to make victory secure against a spirited Scotland.
It was the first time in 23 years that Scotland had finished within 10 points of the All Blacks, since a 13-6 defeat in the third-place play-off match in Cardiff at the 1991 Rugby World Cup.
“We knew the strength of Scotland and what they were going to bring,” Hansen said. “For this tour, we wanted to give all the young guys at least two opportunities. The USA game [won 74-6 in Chicago on Nov. 1] was the first one and this one was a big step up.”
“We knew that and we couldn’t have asked for a better game, because the players had to earn the right to win it,” he said. “They had to stay mentally strong. They got under a lot of pressure at times and came through it very well.”
“It was the same for the Scotland boys. The longer the game went, and the more they felt they like were going to win, the pressure started to creep into their game as well,” he added. “Pressure’s a funny thing. The young guys have got to learn to cope with it.”
Even the older All Blacks buckled at times. Carter missed two kicks at goal, but then landed three penalties, in his first international start for twelve months.
Captain Richie McCaw, playing his 136th game for New Zealand gifted an interception try to Scotland winger Tommy Seymour.
“There were a lot of mistakes and a lot of parts we’ll have to go away and improve on,” McCaw said. “The key was not to panic and believe in what we were doing. The way we scored that try towards the end, it was probably the best patch of rugby we played. To do that when it counts is important.”
No. 8 Victor Vito, who scored the opening try for the All Blacks, suffered a torn calf muscle and looks certain to miss their final tour match against Wales on Saturday.
However, center Conrad Smith was due to rejoin the squad in the Welsh capital yesterday after returning home last week.
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