Planet Rugby

Preview: Scotland v New Zealand

09th November 2012 08:27

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richie mccaw in scotland

New Zealand: Out to set the tone for the rest of their European tour

New Zealand haven't been beaten in their November internationals for 10 years, and it should remain that way when Scotland's feared and revered opponents visit Murrayfield.

Whilst the All Blacks' southern hemisphere counterparts trip up from time to time, New Zealand remain extremely dominant on northern tours. The tourists' most recent November defeat in Europe was England's Twickenham win in 2002, when current Scotland coach Andy Robinson was assistant to Sir Clive Woodward.

But while Robinson has tasted victory against the mighty All Blacks, his adopted rugby nation haven't in 107 years of trying. In 28 attempts, Scotland have drawn twice (1964 and 1983) while two years ago the side which went on to lift the World Cup claimed a 49-3 win, featuring three tries in the opening nine minutes.

Of course, an upset can never be ruled out - just ask Australia as they found out earlier this year at home against the Scots. But despite having accounted for the Wallabies, the hosts appear too weak on paper to make any significant impact and are destined for another tough day at the office.

It would be fantastic for the game though if Robinson's troops can prove us - and arguably everyone else - wrong. Especially considering the inroads they've made since the disappointment of exiting the group stage of the World Cup for the first time and a Six Nations wooden spoon.

Indeed, Scotland were the most successful of all of the 'Home Nations' in June, thanks to their three tour wins against Australia, Fiji and Samoa. Scotland supporters will hope their team can continue the same run of form.

Unfortunatelly for them, Scotland's job hasn't been made any easier against the world champions who are still hurting from a disappointing 18-18 Bledisloe Cup draw with the injury-ravaged Wallabies in Brisbane - halting their winning streak at 16 matches.

Granted, the result was better than a loss. And had Dan Carter's last-gasp drop-goal been a metre to the left, New Zealand could've taken an unlikely victory. But instead the Kiwis left Suncorp Stadium knowing they had blown their chance for a tilt at a world-record winning sequence.

But its not all doom and gloom for the men in black as they are still in the running for another record - their longest unbeaten streak.

Now on 17, if Richie McCaw and his merry men beat Scotland, Italy, Wales and England over the next four weeks and then knock over France in their three-Test series next year, they will overtake the current record of 23 games without loss set in 1987-90.

To team news now and with coach Steve Hansen intent on giving all of his 32-man squad a run in the opening two Tests, only five players from the All Blacks' last outing against Australia were included in the starting XV.

The out-of-form Piri Weepu, who seems to have nine lives, was handed another chance of redemption and replaces Aaron Smith. Hansen also named veteran hooker Andrew Hore in the starting line-up and gave Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Dane Coles the opportunity to earn their debut caps from an expanded eight-man bench.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the inclusion of Highlanders duo Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith together in midfield for the first time at the expense of Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith.

While Ellison and Ben Smith are relatively inexperienced at Test level, with 12 caps between them compared to Nonu and Conrad Smith's 136, they have worked well together at the Highlanders, hinting that Hansen is looking to the future.

With McCaw and star fly-half Dan Carter still in the mix, it's still a very strong side boasting 556 Test caps, backed up by 267 on the bench.

In the Scotland camp, Robinson made five changes to his starting XV that edged Samoa 17-16 in June.

Jim Hamilton, who missed the tour because of disciplinary problems incurred while playing for Gloucester, returns to partner star lock Richie Gray in the second row while fit-again loose forward Kelly Brown was recalled and captains Scotland for the first time.

In the backs, centre Nick de Luca and scrum-half Mike Blair replace the injured pair of Joe Ansbro and Chris Cusiter respectively while Geoff Cross comes in for prop Euan Murray, unavailable because his religious beliefs prevent him playing on a Sunday.

Ones to watch:

For Scotland: Standing 1.93m and weighing 109kg, Holland-born Tim Visser comes from the Jonah Lomu-school of wingers, and the All Blacks will no doubt have done their homework on the 25-year-old Edinburgh flyer who will make his Murrayfield debut on Sunday. Visser, who scored two tries on his debut against Fiji in June, is a versatile and strong runner with plenty of pace - a mold developed by New Zealand with the emergence of Lomu almost 20 years ago. Also keep an eye on lock Richie Gray, who has given Scotland a timely boost but has not played since October 14 due to an ankle injury.

For New Zealand: It's refreshing not to to single out the usual suspects in the All Blacks midfield with a new combination set to take centre stage in Scotland's capital. Ben Smith and Tamati Ellison have been warming pine for long enough and finally get to prove their worth straight from the kick-off. Smith - comfortable at wing, full-back or centre - is a master of the perfect angle, hitting the line like clockwork. Ellison has pace, quick feet and good hands so needs to be fiercely guarded. The duo are team-mates at the Highlanders too, so know each other's attributes inside out.

Head to head: Kelly Brown v Victor Vito. The Scotland skipper was probably expecting to be up against the influential Kieran Read. Instead he's is tasked with keeping Vito at bay, but his job won't be any easier. Whilst the Hurricanes star is no Read, he gets through plenty of graft that serves on the platform on which any Test victory is built. Vito provides NZ with a reliable option at the back of the line-out and is always on hand to carry the ball strongly or make an important tackle. Brown, celebrating his 50th Test, is no slouch either and will be looking to dominate from the back of the scrum.

Recent results:
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: New Zealand's last result was perhaps the wake-up call needed ahead of this tour. Expect them to be wide awake this time out and one feels there is a response brewing to rectify that draw, which spells trouble for Scotland who have drawn the short straw. All Blacks by 20 points!

The teams:

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, 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 (c), 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Sam 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
Kick-off: 14:30 GMT
Venue: Murrayfield
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gauzere (France) and Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Television match official: Graham Hughes (England)

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