Scotland went toe to toe with New Zealand for the full 80 minutes but again were left crushed with disappointment in an epic test match at BT Murrayfield as the All Blacks just held on for the win.
Stuart Hogg’s mazy run with time running out nearly opened up the tiring All Black defence for a try that would have tied the scores, but he was just unable to free the pass inside and time expired with the Scots frustratingly short.
They had best of the majority of the match and scored tries through Jonny Gray and Huw Jones, but too many chances were left on the pitch with drops and turnovers in the shadow of the New Zealand posts.
But it would be churlish to be too critical of the Scots who gave the All Blacks as tough a test as they’ve ever had in the last 20 years at Murrayfield. The class of the world champions told in some of their formidable defence and the way they cut through for tries from Codie Taylor, Damien McKenzie and Beauden Barrett.
Even with that the Scottish defence was hugely improved from the opening Autumn test last week against Samoa, but the coaches and squad will know this was a glorious chance missed to end the 112-year run of failure to beat New Zealand.
Scotland had to be disappointed with the first half, not that they ever looked like capitulating as some had predicted, but that they didn’t have a handy lead with a territory and possession advantage, especially in the first 20 minutes.
New Zealand barely got a finger on the ball for the first eight minutes, which saw Hogg slice through twice, before an All Black dived in to kill it and Finn Russell kicked Scotland ahead.
The Scots continued to pressure any black jersey that moved and Russell nearly got hold of an unwise flighted pass from Barrett, but Russell missed a long penalty chance on 12 minutes after his skipper had forced a penalty on the deck.
The Scots got into the New Zealand 22 several times, but were unable to hold on to the ball under pressure, drops from Huw Jones and Zander Fagerson killing promising moves while Lee Jones was caught hanging on.
But the Scottish defence was immense inside their own 22 in stark contrast to the Samoa game, forcing a forward pass from Barrett as New Zealand threatened, another Barclay turnover and then a brilliant steal at the back of a scrum by Ali Price keeping the All Blacks at bay.
New Zealand were lucky to stay at 15 men on the pitch when Waisake Naholo ran into an airborne Hogg, but after a long TMO consolation referee Matt Carley ruled the wing had been pushed into the contact by Price, much to the fury of the Murrayfield crowd, and a penalty had to suffice.
New Zealand finally got on the board two minutes form half-time, Barclay adjudged to have mistimed his attempted steal by the ref and Barrett levelled the scores.
Scotland missed another gilt-edged opportunity when Vaea Fifita fumbled in his own 22 but although Alex Dunbar went close they were turned over on the line with men lining up for the try out wide.
And predictably New Zealand seized control, a brilliant run by Rieko Ioane needing a desperate tackle from Tommy Seymour, but the All Blacks quickly worked possession out wide again for hooker Codie Taylor to slide over in the corner.
Scotland then got hammered at their own scrum, New Zealand took the lineout and mauled, and Sonny Bill Williams’ deft kick through between the posts found Damien McKenzie getting to the ball first, Barrett converting.
A Finn Russell intercept of a probable scoring pass as Ioane got free again kept the floodgates from opening, and instead the Scots stacked up on the New Zealand line, New Zealand’s Sam Cane getting yellow carded for killing possession.
Eventually the Scots took a quick tap and Gray squirmed over for the try, Russell converting.
But just as the Scots felt they were back in the game, New Zealand exploded from scrum ball near halfway, Williams and McKenzie combined at pace to release Barrett for a beautiful score, the stand-off adding the extras.
Still Scotland wouldn’t give up, Wyatt Crockett was yellow carded for another blatant offence on the New Zealand line, and then a fine combination between Hogg and Tommy Seymour opened up a gap for Huw Jones to come on an inside ball to score Scotland’s second try, Russell converting to take the his team back within five.
And the Scots came again in the dying minutes, Hogg slicing through again on a thrilling run but just unable to get the pass away as he was snagged by Barrett in the New Zealand 22.
Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour, H Jones, A Dunbar, L Jones; F Russell, A Price; D Marfo, S McInally, Z Fagerson; B Toolis, J Gray; J Barclay (capt), H Watson, C du Preez.
Replacements: G Turner for Hamilton 50, J Bhatti for Marfo 59, S Berghan for Fagerson 41, G Gilchrist for Toolis 59, L Hamilton for Watson 27, H Pyrgos for Price 76, P Horne for Dunbar 47, B McGuigan for L Jones 69.
New Zealand: D McKenzie; W Naholo, R Crotty, S B Williams, R Ioane; B Barrett, A Smith; K Hames, C Taylor, N Laulala; L Romano, S Whitelock; V Fifita, S Cane, K Read (capt).
Replacements: N Harris for Taylor 73, W Crockett for Hames 52, O Tu’ungafasi for Laulala 59, L Squire for Romano 47, M Todd for Fifita 74, TJ Perenara for Smith 65, L Sopoaga for Barrett 75, A Leinert-Brown for Crotty 60.
Ref: M Carley (RFU)