Preview: Scotland v New Zealand

08th Nov 2008, 12:41

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Phil Godman: Scotland's director

Phil Godman: Scotland's director

Scotland will be aiming to end over a century of hurt against an experimental New Zealand outfit when the two teams go head to head in Saturday's clash at Murrayfield.

Scotland will be aiming to end over a century of hurt against an experimental New Zealand outfit when the two teams go head to head in Saturday's clash at Murrayfield.

The All Blacks have never lost to Scotland with 24 wins and two draws in the history between the two countries that dates back to 1905.

Scotland's failure to record a win over the All Blacks in 103 years must surely be a psychological barrier, as the closest the Scots have come to winning in fairly recent times - other than their 25-25 draw in 1983 - was in 1991 when the All Blacks won 21-18 at Eden Park.

But 27 Tests later and there is a belief in the air that the Scots are in with a decent chance, especially now considering the All Blacks have made wholesale changes - twelve in total - to the side that played last weekend in Hong Kong.

All Blacks coach Graham Henry has handed debuts to prop Jamie Mackintosh and loose forwards Kieran Read and Liam Messam. The only players to retain their starting places from the side that beat Australia 19-14 in Hong Kong are full-back Isaia Toeava, fly-half Stephen Donald and lock Ali Williams.

The All Blacks won't see this as a gamble, merely a chance to get some much-needed game time into their squad for this tricky tour schedule. But clearly they believe the bigger Tests wait around the corner in Ireland, Wales and England.

It appears a lot of responsibility has been placed on this new-look side with the Grand Slam at stake. But it will also be a mix of something old and something new. Henry has still managed to keep plenty of experience in his mix with Joe Rokocoko, Ma'a Nonu and Piri Weepu stepping into the starting XV.

With Andrew Hore ruled out of the tour with an ankle injury, Keven Mealamu steps up as the team's number one number two again. Mealamu - who will also captain the side for the first time - now looms as a key figure to the All Blacks' Grand Slam quest and the nuggety hooker will have a tough ask leading a so-called 'second stringers' into battle.

So with a bare minimum of experienced All Black superstars, the Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup winners are now set to really test their depth.

The team that takes the field against the Scots in Edinburgh will also have had the benefit of two weeks' training as opposed to the rushed preparations that last week's side faced in getting ready for the Hong Kong fixture.

Scotland would have watched the All Blacks stutter past Australia last weekend and - like most rugby pundits - may not have been very impressed, although New Zealand's tenacity to get out of jail had to be admired.

The mighty All Blacks were a tad undercooked. But in contrasting build-ups from the New Zealand and Australia camps, four or five days to prepare for a Test match is difficult, especially when up against an outfit that's had five weeks to prepare.

That showed, particularly in the first half where Australia looked very well organised and put New Zealand - who looked completely the opposite - under a lot of pressure .

So it goes without saying that there is still a lot of improvement to be made, starting with this Test against the men from Braveheart country. But how brave this Scottish outfit will be following a woeful Six Nations campaign remains to be seen.

After winning seven of his first thirteen Tests in charge, Frank Hadden had to wait until the last Test in Buenos Aires - his 33rd as Scotland coach - to claim another seven. It was only his second win in his last eight games, and questions are being asked over the direction he is leading the team.

Where the light shines is in the potential of the current Scotland squad - one that blends the experience of Nathan Hines, Scott Murray, Chris Paterson and Mike Blair with the skills and excitement of young talents such as John Barclay, Nick De Luca, Ben Cairns and Sean Lamont.

The Scotland pack is strengthening, both physically and in terms of experience, with newly-appointed forwards coach Mike Brewer insisting he will improve the set piece, and the selectors faced a tough choice in their second and back rows respectively for this match.

As it turned out, the old and wily heads are preferred by Hadden with the likes of Alistair Strokosch and Dave Callam missing out, though the selections made - on paper at least - still rank as top class nonetheless.

Many had expected the Scots to rest some of their top players for their clash with the Springboks next week, which may be a more winnable match as they seek a victory to boost them into the world's top eight just in time for the World Cup seedings to be named on December 1.

But against the men in black this weekend, Hadden's side seem at least capable of getting over the problems that had dogged recent Scottish sides who almost felt they were defeated before they took the field.

Ones to watch:

For Scotland: Defence won the day against England in this year's Six Nations and then Hadden returned to a more high-tempo, expansive style, which turned a first-Test defeat into a second-Test victory in Argentina. He will attempt to combine the two against the All Blacks and much hinges on the selection of Phil Godman at fly-half. Godman - the runner - possesses the skills Dan Parks does not, but he can't kick very far. He will need to bring an all-round game to the Scotland capital, release his back-line, stand his ground and make sure of his kicks for touch. Anything less can, and will, be disastrous.

For New Zealand: Joe Rokocoko's return on the left wing is the feature of a revamped back division and is poised to earn his 49th cap, and first since the World Cup quarter-final loss to France last October. The 25-year-old was undeniably selected on trust for this tour after injuries forced him to miss the bulk of the Super 14 and provincial competitions. As the weakest home union, Scotland looms as the ideal forum for him to rediscover a try-scoring prowess that has seen him touch down 43 times in 48 Tests since his debut as a teenager in 2003.

Head to head: Scotland's back row v New Zealand's loose trio. There is no doubt that Liam Messam and Kieran Read face a serious examination of their skills at Test level with Scotland opting to line up a couple of wily old veterans in the form of Simon Taylor and Jason White against the All Blacks debutants. The contrast in the back rows couldn't have been more remarkable with a Scottish loose forward unit bolstered by 127 Tests worth of experience. It will be an intriguing battle and as always, the breakdowns will hold a key to the ultimate outcome.

Previous results:

2007: New Zealand won 40-0 at Murrayfield, Edinburgh (RWC)
2005: New Zealand won 29-10 at Murrayfield, Edinburgh
2001: New Zealand won 37-6 at Murrayfield, Edinburgh
2000: New Zealand won 48-14 at Eden Park, Auckland
2000: New