Scotland 0 New Zealand 40: Howlett try record gives grey day a hint of shine
At long last, some questions are being asked of the World Cup favourites. Well, one at least. Who was the All Black who donned a stocking mask and poked his head out of a window at the team's hotel for the benefit of the cameramen at Aix-en-Provence last week and then made a taunting reappearance at a press conference in Edinburgh on Thursday evening?
Carl Hayman has been mooted as the chief suspect but nobody knows for sure – just like nobody knows how Graham Henry's team might respond when questions are asked of them on the field. Like Italy and Portugal before them, Scotland's shadow XV could not come up with anything testing. New Zealand's true potential, like the identity of their mystery prankster, remains firmly under wraps.
Disguised in their silver-grey change shirts yesterday, they merely had to execute a couple of training ground moves to get their third Pool C victory in the bag in the opening quarter. They could even afford some shockingly sloppy handling (20 dropped balls in total) and five – yes, five – missed place-kicks by Dan Carter as they coasted to what was ultimately their biggest margin of victory at Murrayfield. Still, at least it was a day to remember for Doug Howlett, who scored in each half to take his country's all-time try record outright with a running total of 48.
The Scots, with all but two of their first-choice XV held back for the pivotal encounter with Italy in St-Etienne next Saturday night, failed to trouble the scoreboard. The only damage inflicted on the visitors was a minor calf injury to Leon MacDonald, the full-back departing midway through the first-half, at the same time as Chris Paterson. The Scot with the golden boot was suffering from nothing more serious than a poke in the eye.
"Chris's vision was blurred but he's OK now," Frank Hadden said. "The huge advantage we have now is that we can train tomorrow and enjoy a proper build-up to the Italy game." That sought to justify Hadden's selection policy. "We won't be judged on what we did today but on whether we get to the quarter-finals."
It is just as well. The All Blacks landed a sucker punch of a score with five minutes on the clock, the No 8 Rodney So'oialo breaking from the back of a five-metre scrum and wrong-footing the home guard before slipping an inside pass to Richie McCaw, who was left with a clear run to the line.
It was a similar scenario for Howlett 10 minutes later, the wing, who has signed for Munster, completing a simple overlap in the right corner. Try No 3 also came courtesy of some slack defending, the scrum-half Byron Kelleher diving through a nominal Scott Lawson tackle on the right in the 33rd minute.
Thereafter, the occasion descended into the desultory, with the 64,558 crowd performing Mexican waves to keep up the interest before the All Blacks broke the tedium with three more tries in the final quarter. Ali Williams bounced off a couple of tacklers wide on the right, Carter completed a kick and chase score on the left, and Howlett scampered clear from the 22-metre line for his second score.
New Zealand: Tries McCaw, Howlett 2, Kelleher, Williams, Carter; Conversions Carter 2 Penalties Carter 2.
Scotland: H Southwell (Edinburgh); N Walker (Ospreys), M Di Rollo (Toulouse), A Henderson (Glasgow), S Webster (Edinburgh); C Paterson (Gloucester), C Cusiter (Perpignan); A Dickinson (Gloucester), S Lawson (Sale), C Smith (Edinburgh), S MacLeod (Llanelli), S Murray (Montauban, capt), K Brown (Glasgow), J Barclay (Glasgow), D Callam (Edinburgh). Replacements: D Parks (Glasgow) for Paterson, 21; G Kerr (Leeds) for Smith, 50; Smith for Dickinson, 66; F Thomson (Glasgow) for S Lawson, 58; R Lawson (Gloucester) for Cusiter, 59; J Hamilton (Leicester) for MacLeod, 69; R Dewey (Ulster) for Henderson, 69.
New Zealand: L MacDonald (Canterbury); D Howlett (Auckland), C Smith (Wellington), L McAlister (North Harbour), S Sivivatu (Waikato); D Carter (Canterbury), B Kelleher (Waikato); T Woodcock (North Harbour), A Oliver (Otago), C Hayman (Otago), R Thorne (Canterbury), A Williams (Auckland), C Masoe (Taranaki), R McCaw (Canterbury, capt), S So'oialo (Wellington). Replacements: N Evans (Otago) for MacDonald, 21; A Hore (Taranaki) for Oliver, 59; B Leonard (Waikakto) for Kelleher, 59; S Lauaki (Waikato) for McCaw, 61, C Jack (Tasman) for Williams, 65; N Tialata (Wellington) for Hayman, 66; I Toeava (Auckland) for Smith, 66.
Referee: M Jonker (South Africa).