Preview: Scotland v New Zealand

Date published: November 27 2014

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Having overhauled their line-up for their penultimate Test of the year, the All Blacks should face a strong contest against Scotland.

Having overhauled their line-up for their penultimate Test of the year, the All Blacks should face a strong contest against Scotland.

Steve Hansen and his coaching staff will be hoping for a slightly simpler 80 minutes than in recent matches against South Africa, Australia and England, when the All Blacks have been pushed hard.

Claims that the selection is disrespectful feels a touch far, even if only Ben Smith and captain Richie McCaw remain from the starting XV that defeated England at Twickenham.

Even then Smith and McCaw won’t have the same numbers on their backs, with the Highlander moved to full-back while McCaw, with his 135 caps and myriad of accolades, achieves something new by being selected in the six shirt for the first time.

Not that the changes mean New Zealand are sending out some scratch side at Murrayfield, as they look to stretch their unbeaten run against Scotland to 30 straight games.

Performing well in Edinburgh, given the starters are likely to return for Wales, may just alter Hansen’s thinking before next year’s World Cup – and improve odds in the sports betting.

Jeremy Thrush and Dominic Bird are effectively in competition with each other to be New Zealand’s fourth lock, with Luke Romano also in the mix on the bench, after Patrick Tuipulotu’s impressive rise this year.

Malakai Fekitoa is another who despite an outstanding breakthrough year, still has to compete with Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty for a spot in the All Blacks’ midfield. When you consider that amazing depth, the All Blacks don’t get much sympathy.

Complacency isn’t a concern therefore but cohesion might be, given the number of new combinations.

Plenty of attention will be on Dan Carter, more on him later, but from an observer’s perspective the chance to see Sam Cane get a run at openside, along with the likes of Fekitoa and Piutau, is enough to pay close attention to Saturday anyway – before considering how exciting Scotland were against Argentina.

Arguably the one curveball in Hansen’s selection however has been Colin Slade on the wing, although the Crusader is more likely to be interchanging with Smith and Piutau around the Kiwi back-three rather than being fixed out on the flank.

Slade’s defence though should get a vigorous test from a Scottish outfit who are no longer afraid to throw the ball around.

Vern Cotter had no real reason to change his team after the win over Argentina and has resisted the temptation to tinker, apart from on the bench. That’s good, because Scotland showed real promise last weekend, inspired by new/old captain Greig Laidlaw.

It’s no surprise that Laidlaw’s fortunes coincide with Scotland’s success when you consider his ability to open a game up and his accurate goal-kicking, but last Saturday was his best outing in a blue shirt for some time. His quick thinking and pass for Sean Maitland’s try in particular were first-rate.

Argentina admittedly weren’t at their best, with a weakened pack and some dismal one-on-one tackling, but Scotland moved the ball with intent and looked refreshingly threatening.

That said, losing the final ten minutes 21-7 took a bit of the shine off what should have been a larger win than only ten points, considering how Scotland had started out.

Racking up 40 points however over a team that defeated Australia and pushed South Africa close only a few months before was good going and a step forward for Cotter.

It shouldn’t be forgotten either that before their game too far in June against the Springboks in Port Elizabeth, Scotland had also done well in North America and Argentina.

Cotter has given them both an iron will and license to attack, two things not witnessed in a Scottish side for some time.

Best of all, the sense of occasion in facing the All Blacks is unlikely to daunt a young group with nothing riding on the fixture, allowing Scotland to progress even further.

Doing so naturally depends on parity at the set-piece and minimising their errors, but with young backs like Finn Russell, Mark Bennett and Tommy Seymour there is a ton of potential.

When Scotland last hosted New Zealand, Andy Robinson was in charge and the state of the sport in the nation was at a low. Now, with Glasgow Warriors surging under Gregor Townsend and the new outlook from Cotter, change feels afoot.

Ones to Watch

For Scotland: Number eight Adam Ashe smashed the stats in the win over los Pumas, The 21-year-old was everywhere on his first start at Murrayfield and came away as his side’s top carrier and tackler. Still raw – his debut came against the Springboks in June – getting to grips with McCaw, Cane and Victor Vito will be a step up and a real learning curve for Ashe. He has the ability though to make an impact.

For New Zealand: On his last visit to Murrayfield, Dan Carter was imperious. The world’s leading Test points scorer had a hand in three of New Zealand’s six tries in a showstopping performance, the kind we haven’t been able to see enough of over the last two years as injuries caught up with him. Saturday is his first start for a year and the great man’s admission that he’s ‘desperate’ for some game time should have Scotland on alert. The All Blacks will definitely welcome his accuracy off the tee, after a dodgy couple of weeks for Aaron Cruden.

Head-to-head: Two playmakers. Stuart Hogg‘s dire Lions hangover seems firmly put to bed after his worst season so far in his fledgling career, with the Glasgow star back to his best for club and country. Quick, with a handy step, Hogg is a complete footballer and Scotland will want him to pop up in midfield to add an extra man when possible.

Ben Smith meanwhile could pop up anywhere. Effective as ever under the high ball at Twickenham on his return following a mini-break, the debate continues over his best position but full-back gives him more space to work with in attack. With another great year under his belt, Smith never fails to excite.

Previous Results:
2012: New Zealand won 51-22 in Edinburgh
2010: New Zealand won 49-3 in Edinburgh
2008: New Zealand won 32-6 in Edinburgh
2007: New Zealand won 40-0 in Edinburgh
2005: New Zealand won 29-10 in Edinburgh
2001: New Zealand won 37-6 in Edinburgh
2000: New Zealand won 48-14 in Auckland
2000: New Zealand won 69-20 in Dunedin

Prediction: Scotland will certainly give the All Blacks a decent run, and there won’t be a repeat of the 30-point winning margin from 2012, but New Zealand should have enough to see off an inexperienced home side. All Blacks by 14.

The teams:

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn

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