When you support Scotland’s rugby team you accept the fact that our world ranking will see us placed behind the All Blacks, The Springboks, Australia, France and England.
So when we come up against one of the big five we hope that every player putting on the Scotland jersey will do it proud, and in the two matches so far in the Autumn Test series, we have done just that.
Our defence has been much better, with some costly exceptions, and we’ve shown great promise in attack.
The New Zealand game was always going to be the one which would command a lot of attention because, at the 30th attempt, we had a real chance of laying the bogey. The All Blacks made 13 changes, citing the Scottish match as the game where they could experiment with an inexperienced team. This wasn’t showing disrespect. It’s no different to what Vern Cotter did against the USA and Canada in the summer. You have to blood new players in these situations.
However, while there is no such thing as a second-strong All Blacks side – they are all more than capable of walking into any of our northern hemisphere teams – it was, all the same, a largely new team with not too much experience of playing with each other, and it certainly showed on Saturday that they were looking rusty.
The Scots sensed this and went after them, matching them physically and showing no signs of the mental issues connected with a history of 109 years of not winning against this country.
Greig Laidlaw was on fine form with four kicks out of four before not hitting the target with seven minutes to go from a penalty which would have given the Scots a two-point lead. What could have happened if the kick had gone over we will never know. We would all have loved to have seen Scotland – whose discipline improved in the second half after leaking penalties in the first period – protecting a lead into the final few minutes. It didn’t and we were all gutted, but no one was more upset than Greig Laidlaw.
This is sport – it happens. Yes it was a missed opportunity to beat the All Blacks for the first time, and we’re all upset about that, particularly a 91-year-old relative of mine who is desperate to see the Scots beat the Kiwis.
However, having seen Vern Cotter and his team in action these past two weeks, it is very encouraging to see things beginning to gel. There is definite hope there where there wasn’t last season. A good win and performance against Tonga at Kilmarnock on Saturday will set us up nicely for the 6 Nations.