Rugby Union: Experimental New Zealand leave it late against Scotland but seal 24-16 win

EDINBURGH (AFP) - It took a 74th minute try from lock Jeremy Thrush to secure a 24-16 victory for an experimental All Blacks side in a tight contest with Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday.

The Scots have never beaten New Zealand, but were scenting history and within just a point of the world champions on the scoreboard until Thrush crossed the whitewash and Colin Slade converted to leave the visitors with a flattering eight point cushion of victory.

There was an unfamiliar look to the All Blacks' line-up, with captaining Richie McCaw playing his first international at blindside flanker and fourth-choice fly-half Colin Slade stationed on the right wing.

Coach Steve Hansen made 13 changes in all from the XV that started the 24-21 victory against England at Twickenham the previous week.

Still, McCaw was collecting his 136th cap and Dan Carter his 102nd. It was Carter's first start for his country for a day short of a year.

The Crusaders outside-half played 30 minutes as a second-half replacement in New Zealand's 74-6 win against the United States in Chicago on Nov 1 and performed water boy duties at Twickenham but was returning to the All Black number 10 jersey for the first time since Nov 16 last year, when his 100th cap against England.

Carter, who missed the 2014 Rugby Championship after suffering a bone fracture in his right leg in the Super Rugby Final in August, had the opportunity to get the scoreboard ticking when Scotland lock Richie Gray was penalised for failing to release the ball in the tackle in the eighth minute.

The two-time IRB Player of the Year pulled his effort wide but two minutes later New Zealand had the opening score in the bag. Big Number Eight brushed aside an attempted tackle from Alex Dunbar before holding off Stuart Hogg and Greig Laidlaw and dotting the ball down in the left corner.

Carter was off target with his conversion attempt from tight to the touchline and it was an error from the other cap centurion in the All Blacks' ranks, McCaw, that handed a try to Scotland in the 12th minute.

In attempting to find Vito, the New Zealand captain merely threw a pass to Scotland wing Tommy Seymour, who had an unopposed run to the line.

Laidlaw landed the conversion, furnishing Scotland with a 7-5 lead that they managed to hold on to until the 27th minute.

After Scotland fly half Finn Russell had an attempted clearing kick charged down, the All Blacks were held up in the left corner but had the consolation of a penalty that Carter duly converted to give the visitors an 8-7 advantage.

Five minutes later Carter made it 11-7 with a second penalty success and, after Laidlaw replied with a penalty at the other end , Carter nailed his third just before the interval to give New Zealand a 14-10 half-time lead.

It was the closest Scotland had been to the All Blacks at the halfway stage of a contest since 1991 and they attacked from the off in the second period. The result was a 45th minute penalty that Laidlaw landed to pull the gap back to 14-13.

The All Blacks rang the changes in the 56th minute, Carter making way for Julian Savea, with Slade switching from the right wing to outside half, and Sonny Bill Williams and Ben Franks also being released from bench duty.

Slade banged over a 65th minute penalty to give New Zealand a 17-13 cushion, but two minutes later Laidlaw replied in kind, making it a one-point contest once again.

Eight minutes from time Laidlaw had the chance to put Scotland ahead but pushed his penalty attempt wide - his first miss in five attempts at the posts. Then, in the 76th minute, Thrush barged over in the right corner and Slade converted.

The odd-looking All Blacks had got off the hook and Scotland's shot at history had gone.

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