Crestfallen Gregor Townsend rued Scotland’s inability to see out an historic victory after New Zealand fought back in the closing quarter of Sunday’s Test to win 31-23 at BT Murrayfield.
The Scots looked on course for their first-ever triumph over the All Blacks when they scored 23 points without reply to wipe out the visitors’ early 14-0 lead and take a nine-point advantage themselves.
But Townsend lamented the fact they were unable to maintain their dominance into the closings stages as tries from Scott Barrett and Mark Telea turned the match back in New Zealand’s favour.
“I feel mainly disappointment,” the Scotland head coach said. “We don’t get to play New Zealand every couple of years like we used to, it has been five years (since the last meeting). That will be the biggest lead we have had over New Zealand in our history and we didn’t win.
“We scored 23 points to nil during a 50-minute period. With those margins you have to kick on and win. You have to see out the win and we did not do that.”
Townsend admitted it was one of the sorest defeats of his reign.
“Probably Japan in the (2019) World Cup will be up there with this,” he said. “But this is disappointing because you don’t get to play New Zealand (often) and we have never beaten them in our history so when you play like that and get a lead, you feel you should win and we didn’t.”
Townsend praised his team for the way they turned around the early 14-0 deficit but was equally disappointed by the manner in which they relinquished their own nine-point lead after they lost Jack Dempsey to a yellow card.
“We were nine points up and controlled a fair bit of our own destiny in those last 15 minutes,” he said. “New Zealand were always going to come back into it, they are a very good team, and we allowed them to get better field positions and penalties.
“I didn’t think they were doing anything different and we were containing them.
“Our management of when to play and when to kick was excellent, our chase was outstanding, but we let them back in with a couple of errors. The yellow card put us under pressure. Yellow cards lift the opposition and that is when they did damage.”
Townsend praised Finn Russell after the stand-off, who was recalled last week after being contentiously left out of the initial autumn series squad, was successful with all four of his kicks at goal, putting 11 points on the scoreboard.
“I thought he was very good,” he said. “His decision-making around where to play, when to pay, was very good. His goal-kicking was excellent.”
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Townsend was gutted Scotland were not able to get a victory in front of Doddie Weir, his 52-year-old former international team-mate who presented the match ball before kick-off on a rare return to the national stadium as he continues to fight motor neurone disease.
“It was a big occasion for Doddie and his family,” Townsend said. “It was brilliant to hear the crowd show their appreciation for him. We wanted to win the game for Doddie and we didn’t.”
New Zealand head coach Ian Foster was “proud” of the way his side fought back in the final quarter.
“We were against a Scottish team that we think has grown in strength and is on the rise,” he said. “They’ve been able to win some big Tests the past two years. It was one we were a wee bit nervous about, so I am delighted to get a good win.
“When you are away from home against a team that’s got their tails up, it’s hard to turn it around. It’s a Test win we are very proud of.”