SO close – yet so far.
Just as Scotland dared to dream, New Zealand did what New Zealand do.
With 14 minutes left, Gregor Townsend’s men held the lead.
That first, elusive victory against the All Blacks was so close you could almost reach out and touch it.
Yet in a heart-breaking closing quarter, it was cruelly ripped from their grasp with the visitors flexing their muscles in the nick of time.
It’s what all the great sides do.
Yet the question remains. If not now for Scotland, then when?
Townsend’s charges had numerous opportunities to kill off their illustrious opponents.
But when you don’t take them, the inevitable happens.
And that, pretty much, sums up the 32nd meeting of these two teams.
An engrossing Test match, played out against a hugely emotional backdrop.
Doddie Weir, as he’d done back in 2017, delivered the match ball.
This time, however, he was confined to his wheelchair, surrounded once again by his family.
Soon, both sets of players had gathered around him too.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Five years ago, Weir walked out with the match ball, igniting a searing atmosphere.
Twelve months earlier, the Scottish rugby legend had been given his devastating motor neurone diagnosis.
Yesterday, he and the All Blacks were back.
In 2017, Weir was at the beginning of his brave MND fight.
Five years on, and having raised almost £10million for his My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, the great man’s presence on the sidelines was once again felt by everyone inside the stadium.
Back then, undoubtedly inspired by Weir, Scotland had come within a few metres of beating the All Blacks.
Could they be inspired again and claim an historic victory this time around?
New Zealand, of course, had never lost to Scotland.
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That remarkable record had spanned 117 years with the Scots, buoyed by the return of Finn Russell desperate to rewrite the books.
Townsend made just three changes from last week – fielding a very experienced side.
Yet – in a crazy opening – the Scots got off to the worst possible start.
Shipping two tries inside the opening seven minutes was not part of the game-plan.
The first came after two minutes. Pinged at the breakdown, the All Blacks kicked for the corner.
Samisoni Taukei’aho threw to the tail before gathering the ball and rumbling over the line.
Jordie Barrett added the extras.
Things quickly went from bad to worse for the Scots as New Zealand turned the ball over at the next breakdown.
Townsend’s scrambled defence was in disarray with Beauden Barrett opting for the crossfield kick.
Mark Telea was in acres of space and dotted down.
Scotland could so easily have crumbled, instead they came roaring right back.
With 12 minutes gone, referee Frank Murphy rightly awarded the home side a penalty try.
Stuart Hogg’s kick and chase would surely have resulted in a try had he not been illegally taken out by Anton Lienert-Brown.
The All Blacks centre was shown a yellow card for his troubles.
A minute later and the scores were level.
David Havili’s poor pass was intercepted by Darcy Graham. The little winger still had plenty to do, but after shrugging off Caleb Clarke he went round Beauden Barrett to score.
Russell kicked the conversion.
Graham was denied by a brilliant score right on the half hour – his right foot marginally in touch.
But Murphy brought the play back, awarding Scotland a penalty in front of the posts.
Russell slotted – kicking his side ahead for the first time in the match.
The Scots were fired up.
Yet they squandered a great chance to increase their lead, held up on the All Blacks line after the clock had gone red.
Would they live to regret the missed opportunity?
Two minutes into the second half and they were awarded another penalty – Russell once again keeping his cool to kick from distance.
All of a sudden, Townsend’s men had opened up a six point lead.
They were forcing the All Blacks into mistakes.
There was still, however, a long way to go.
The Scots then came within inches of a try with 49 minutes gone.
Hogg – in a repeat of 2017 – was held up metres from the line.
Doddie Weir just as he’d done back in 2017, delivered the match ball. Soon, both sets of players had gathered around him too. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”
You couldn’t take your eyes off it.
There was a growing confidence this could be Scotland’s moment.
The game, and a place in the history books, was there for them.
Another Russell penalty nudged Townsend’s men further ahead.
With 20 minutes to go, the Scots were in control of the scoreboard, and continuing to make gains in opposition territory.
But just as Murrayfield dared to dream, a cheap penalty gave Beauden Barrett the chance to reduce the arrears.
Scotland’s lead was cut to six points.
Jack Dempsey was then shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on and you could sense the momentum beginning to shift.
The All Blacks sensed it too and the visitors quickly made the 14-men pay.
In the next passage of play, Scott Barrett rumbled over with his brother Beauden kicking New Zealand back in front.
With five minutes to go, the All Blacks finally shattered Scotland’s hopes.
Telea scored in the corner with Barrett kicking a superb conversion.
Scotland had run out of time, legs and ideas.
The wait for that first ever win against New Zealand continues.
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