- 24 Sep 07, 09:42 AM
Murrayfield, Sunday - Don’t you just love the World Cup? The best teams in the world, going hell for leather for victory, the underdog taking it to the favourites and all in front of a backdrop of fervent fans going blinking bananas.
That’s the theory at any rate. Scotland B’s 40-0 hammering by New Zealand certainly didn’t live up to that ideal, or even come close to it.
Let’s remind ourselves that, on paper, this was a match-up in the sport’s highest-profile tournament between two unbeaten sides, in front of a passionate home crowd and with the winner putting themselves into the knock-out stages. It’s what the World Cup should be all about.
But the decision of Scotland coach Frank Hadden to select – whatever his protests to the contrary – a largely second-string side, coupled with the All Blacks’ inability to get out of second gear, meant this was one World Cup game that failed to sparkle.
In the cold light of day, Hadden’s decision was entirely understandable given the situation his side faces in the battle to reach the quarter-finals.
A win against an eminently beatable Italy on Saturday and Scotland will maintain their record of always reaching the knock-out stages.
Don’t get me wrong, Scotland’s players certainly didn’t disgrace themselves and no player in blue came off the field having given anything less than his all.
But the result was a foregone conclusion, with only the margin of victory up for debate.
Whether it was the Murrayfield tannoy announcements in French (perhaps someone could explain the logic of that to me?) or the unappealing aluminium grey of the All Blacks’ change kit, something just wasn’t right in Edinburgh.
With New Zealand cruising into a comfortable lead inside 20 minutes, without ever looking close to finding their fluent best, the atmosphere inside the stadium took on a curious slant.
Mexican waves – the tell-tale sign of a mediocre match - broke out well before the first half was over.
For large parts of the game, the most noticeable sound inside the stadium was that of the semi-interested chatter of spectators, far from enthralled by the toiling efforts on the pitch.
The players could have been an acoustic singer-songwriter going down badly in a support slot for stadium rockers Bon Jovi for all the enthusiasm shown.
Sporadic chants of “Scotland” emerged from the crowd on the rare occasions the temperature on the pitch raised above tepid, while the Kiwi fans realised it was hardly worth the effort of crowing about their side’s casual domination.
New Zealand scored some decent tries, while Scotland tackled for all they were worth but it will go down as one of the most tedious matches of the tournament.
Scotland now have no room for error – and no excuses – when they take on Italy and, for the sake of all the home fans who shelled out for the Murrayfield encounter, they had better get it right in St Etienne.
Phil Harlow is a BBC Sport journalist based in London.