The All Blacks have not lost a match on their November northern hemisphere tour since 2002 and despite the progress made by Scotland, the reality is that they are unlikely to stop the New Zealanders’ winning streak on Saturday.
In their 27 clashes with Scotland since 1905 the All Blacks have never lost a Test, winning 25 games and drawing two. In the four Tests between the two nations since 2000 Scotland have scored only one try against New Zealand while conceding 17 tries.
The Scots beat the Springboks as long ago as 1906 and the All Blacks remain the only southern hemisphere team they’ve never beaten. Can they achieve an historic first victory on Saturday?
The Scots beat Australia this time last year and in their last four matches have drawn with England at home, beaten Ireland in Dublin, and in June won both Tests against Argentina in Argentina – but it would still come as the shock of the year if they were to beat the All Blacks this weekend.
The All Blacks were impressive in their unbeaten Tri-Nations campaign but then stumbled to a last-gasp defeat to the Wallabies in Hong Kong and to a not altogether convincing win over England. Their resolve to again scale the heights expected of the IRB’s number one-ranked team will be enormous.
All Blacks head coach Graham Henry has been at pains to talk up the threat posed by the Scots, saying: “We have huge respect for the Scots and the way they are playing the game. They have had some major victories in recent times.”
Henry speaks highly of the progress Scotland have made under coach Andy Robinson, emphasising that Saturday’s contest at Murrayfield could be one of the toughest challenges his team will face this month.
“They’ve got a very good record in recent times. Andy Robinson is obviously doing a very fine job. So I think they are probably one of the toughest games on the tour,” Henry commented. Robinson is determined that his team will do themselves justice against the might of the All Blacks.
“As someone who loves his rugby it’s been a real thrill to watch many of New Zealand’s games this year and, for me, it’s important that this month the Scotland team earn the respect of the southern hemisphere by the qualities we bring to bear,” said the former England coach.
“It is imperative that we front up from the first whistle and play the game at a tempo where we can unveil our skills and show our discipline, because the winning of this Test match is in our hands,” Robinson added.
The coach believes the Murrayfield crowd have a role to play on Saturday. “The support we had during our Test against Australia last year was phenomenal – the crowd shared the players’ belief and conviction that day and roared us on and we have to do our bit to create that same fabulous atmosphere this weekend,” he said.
Scotland attack coach Gregor Townsend has called for a repeat of the excellent continuity game that served the Scots so effectively in their success in Argentina, with an assertion that a high-paced game is on the cards with the Scots’ expansive game plan and an instruction to the players to trust their skills under pressure.
But a pattern of quick continuity and offloading to support lends itself to risk if the team’s skills are not impeccable and could lead to the Scots’ undoing if they concede turnovers, with the New Zealanders more adept than most at capitalising on opposition errors.
The forward battle will be fascinating, particularly with the All Blacks front row smarting after being adjudged by last weekend’s referee Romain Poite as being habitual scrummaging transgressors. They conceded five penalties and two free kicks in scrums while England conceded no scrummaging penalties and no free kicks.
If Scotland can match the All Blacks for possession, they will be competitive, but to win the game they will need to secure plenty of ball and to hold on to their possession because the big game-breakers will be in the visiting team. While the hosts rely largely on team continuity the visitors are not only a superb ball-carrying team with exceptional continuity skills but also have great playmakers in their line-up – with Daniel Carter and Mils Muliaina guiding a potent attacking backline filled with creators and finishers.
Defence will be crucial as always with Robinson’s team facing their biggest challenge since he took over as coach. Can Scotland restrict the All Blacks to few enough tries to be in with a sniff of victory? Can the high skills’ game they strive towards crack the All Blacks defence?
Territorial advantage is always a major factor and if it rains during the match – a 50% chance of precipitation is predicted – territory will become all the more important with goalable penalties assuming greater significance, which means retention of possession and the tactical kicking games of Carter and Dan Parks become crucial.
New Zealand are the perennial favourites but Scotland believe they can break their 105-year losing streak against the All Blacks. Certainly, they will not be the pushovers they have on occasion been against the All Blacks and this could just turn out to be a memorable game.
Scotland: 15 Hugo Southwell, 14 Rory Lamont, 13 Max Evans, 12 Graeme Morrison, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Mike Blair (captain), 8 Richie Vernon, 7 John Barclay, 6 Kelly Brown, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Allan Jacobsen.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Alasdair Dickinson, 18 Nathan Hines, 19 Ross Rennie, 20 Greig Laidlaw, 21 Ruaridh Jackson, 22 Nikki Walker.
New Zealand: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Isaia Toeava, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu/Hikawera Elliot, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 John Afoa, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Daniel Braid, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Stephen Donald, 22 Ma’a Nonu.
Date: Saturday, November 13
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 17.15 (17.15 GMT)
Expected weather: Maximum temperature 7ºC, minimum 3ºC; 50% chance of light rain; wind west/south west 10-19kmph
Referee: Dave Pearson (England)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Robin Goodliffe (England)
TMO: Giulio De Santis (Italy)