Preview: Scotland v New Zealand
Scotland are set to face the wrath of an All Black side out for retribution after having being denied a historic milestone when the teams collide at Murrayfield on Sunday.
The world champions are still seething after trans-Tasman rivals Australia ended their run of 16 consecutive victories with an 18-all draw in the third and final Bledisloe Cup clash in Brisbane last month.
The stalemate stunned New Zealanders and uplifted Australians, whose Wallabies had changed their spots by adopting a conservative approach and had endured hardship on the off the field with a certain outspoken flyhalf causing upheaval with his criticism of the national set-up.
Lost in the immediate aftermath of the match was the fact that the surprise result would likely condemn lowly Scotland, languishing in a distant ninth-place on the IRB World Rankings, to a public execution at their hallowed home ground.
Indeed, Australia’s gain will be Scotland’s loss, as a focused and fired up All Black side head into the weekend intent on setting the record straight, with the unfortunate Scots as third-party victims.
The underdog, hosts, for their part, have the combination of a shot at rewriting the history books and over 67,000 ardent supporters as their collective driving force.
They have never beaten the mighty All Blacks in 28 Tests – spread across 107 years – and their performances this season do nothing to bolster the belief that one of the greatest upsets of all-time could materialise at Murrayfield.
Yes, they boast a 9-6 upset of Australia in atrocious conditions in Newcastle in June, but the Wallabies of 2012 are a far cry from the current All Black vintage, who are yet to taste defeat under Steve Hansen.
Victories over Fiji and Samoa followed the Wallaby win and ensured the Scots an unbeaten June tour, but the 17-16 win over the Samoans served as a reality check of the true quality of the Six Nations wooden spoonists, whose 38 percent win record this season speaks for itself.
A new captain and new combinations compound Scotland’s concerns. Kelly Brown will captain the team for the first time, while Matt Scott, Tim Visser and Ryan Grant will all make their first international starts at Murrayfield.
Players to watch:
For Scotland: Mike Blair’s experience will make him a key player for the hosts in the No.9 jersey. Dutch-born wing Tim Visser, who is arguably the most lethal commodity in the Scottish backline. What he lacks in experience he makes up for with speed and size and the man considered by some as the ‘Scottish Jonah Lomu’ will ask questions of the All Blacks’ defence if given the opportunity. Ross Ford will fulfil a key leadership role at hooker and Ross Rennie will be ever-present in general play, while Henry Pyrgos could make his debut off the bench.
For New Zealand: Keep an eye on Israel Dagg, who will look to set Murrayfield alight with his counter-attacking prowess and the new centre pairing of Ben Smith and Tamati Ellison. With a wave of exciting, young scrumhalves emerging in New Zealand, veteran Piri Weepu will have to prove he’s still worthy of his place in the matchday side. Adam Thomson will want to send a message of his own while Dane Coles is expected to make his All Black bow off the bench.
Head to Head: Look no further than the battle at No.8 between Kelly Brown and Victor Vito. The match marks two special milestones for Brown as he skippers the Scots in his 50th Test and it remains to be seen how he deals with the added responsibility of the captaincy. The other key clash is at flyhalf where Greig Laidlaw will have to contain the all-round brilliance of Dan Carter.
2010: New Zealand won 49-3, Edinburgh
2008: New Zealand won 32-6, Edinburgh
2007: New Zealand won 40-0, Edinburgh
2005: New Zealand won 29-10, Edinburgh
2001: New Zealand won 37-6, Edinburgh
2000: New Zealand won 48-14, Auckland
2000: New Zealand won 69-20, Dunedin
Prediction: The Scots will certainly not lack any passion and motivation in front of a sell-out crowd but they won’t be able to match the physicality of the All Black forwards and keep up with the frenetic pay at which the world champions operate for the full 80 minutes. With no rain forecast, the All Blacks should coast to victory by more than 30 points.
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Lamont, 13 Nick de Luca, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Greig Laidlaw, 9 Mike Blair, 8 Kelly Brown (captain), 7 Ross Rennie, 6 Alasdair Strokosch, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Geoff Cross, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Ryan Grant.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Allan Jacobsen, 18 Kyle Traynor, 19 Alastair Kellock, 20 David Denton, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Max Evans.
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Ben Smith, 12 Tamati Ellison, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Tony Woodcock, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Ali Williams, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Ma'a Nonu.
Date: Sunday, November 11
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 14.30 (14.30 GMT)
Expected weather: No rain with temperature ranging between 7 °C and 1°C
Referee: Jérôme Garces (France)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gauzere (France), Simon McDowell (Ireland)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)
By Quintin van Jaarsveld