SCOTLAND v NEW ZEALAND, MURRAYFIELD, SATURDAY 18 NOVEMBER.
Kick-off 5.15pm. Live on BBC 2 and BT Sport 2.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg; Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Alex Dunbar, Lee Jones; Finn Russell, Ali Price; Darryl Marfo, Stuart McInally, Zander Fagerson, Ben Toolis, Jonny Gray, John Barclay, Hamish Watson, Cornell du Preez. Substitutes: George Turner, Jamie Bhatti, Simon Berghan, Grant Gilchrist, Luke Hamilton, Henry Pyrgos, Pete Horne, Byron McGuigan.
New Zealand: Damian McKenzie; Waisake Naholo, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Kane Hames, Codie Taylor, Nepo Laulala, Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock, Vaea Fifita, Sam Cane, Kieran Read. Substitutes: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Liam Squire, Matt Todd, TJ Perenara, Lima Sopoaga, Anton Lienert-Brown.
Referee: Matthew Carley (England).
EVENTUALLY, as long as rugby keeps being played for long enough, Scotland will beat New Zealand. It’s inevitable: some day, somewhere, some circumstances will coincide and it will happen.
Let’s be honest, though. The chances of it happening today do not look great. Scotland were very rusty against Samoa last week, conceding five tries but thankfully scoring six to end up 44-38 victors. Unless they tighten up considerably, their main aim this evening will be mere damage limitation rather than a historic triumph.
By contrast, the All Blacks were imperious against France on the same day, at least for long enough to ensure the victory. They were a bit slack by their own standards in the second half, but still had enough to win 38-18 – and that in rainy conditions which made it difficult for them to execute their ideal game plan. They then proved the depth of their squad by beating the same opponents 28-23 in an uncapped international three days later.
So the basic formula for a home win this time round? Simple: Scotland need to be at their very best; New Zealand some way below what they are capable of.
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend, his assistants and the players have all acknowledged that throughout the week, while at the same time insisting that they will not become fixated on that dismal record of failure that stretches back 30 matches and 112 years to the day. New Zealand, of course, are far too canny and diplomatic and self-critical to dwell on their superiority, so they have preferred to talk of how Scotland have improved over the past three years.
WHAT THEY SAID
Scotland assistant coach Mike Blair on the All Blacks:
“They look pretty impressive, don’t they? Right across the board, they’ve got world-class players. If we give them time and quick ball, if we let them run through their patterns and phases, it will be a long day. But we’ve had a lot of work this week after that Samoa game, looking to tweak a few things in attack and defence, so we will see improvements this week.
“New Zealand, if they play extremely well, we’ll struggle to beat them. So a lot of what we’ve worked on is shutting down what they want to do. If we do that, it puts us in a good position.
“If we play to the best of our ability, that gives us an opportunity to win. Thinking about this being the first time we beat the All Blacks, that’s not going to help us win.
What will help us is performing well and delivering on our game plan. That gives us the best chance.”
All Blacks captain Kieran Read on the standards his team try to set:
“We always want to be a ruthless side and come out there and put teams away. Test matches aren’t supposed to be easy. The majority of teams we play, play one of their best games of the season against us.
“We’ve just got to be disciplined and try to stick to our game plan as much as we can for the full 80. If we do that, we’ll give ourselves a good chance of winning.”
Scotland centre Alex Dunbar on the scale of the task his team face:
“We’ve got enough leaders in the group and we’ve talked about how we have to start the game. That will be key. We’ve got to go out there and put them under pressure. If any team sits off and lets them play, then anyone can be beaten by 60-70 points.
“We need to start the game well and try to put them off their game. We’ll then see how the game goes once we’re past the early stages.”
All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams on Scotland’s win over Australia in the summer:
“It was a big result for them and has not gone unnoticed. It has really put us on the edge of our seats in our preparation, knowing that they can knock off the big boys. We know we have a massive challenge: they have some very dangerous players in their squad. The flavour of footy they’re playing just now is great to see and great for world rugby.”
THREE KEY CLASHES
Finn Russell v Beauden Barrett
“Finn loves a challenge,” Mike Blair said. “He hasn’t outwardly said it, but I’m sure he’ll love the chance to put himself up against one of the best 10s in the world and see how it goes. I expect him to rise to that challenge.”
Lee Jones v Waisake Naholo
The Glasgow Warriors winger has been in the best form of his career this season – and he will need to keep that up if he is to play his part in shutting down the All Blacks attack. The 26-year-old Naholo is devastating on his day and can be expected to be given a couple of early runs at Jones to see if he can find any weaknesses.
Cornell du Preez v Kieran Read
Scotland’s back row were unusually quiet against Samoa, and Edinburgh No 8 Du Preez, in for the injured Ryan Wilson, will be expected to put that right with some rumbustious ball-carrying. That will not be easy, however, against All Blacks captain Read, a vastly experienced forward with over 100 caps to his credit.
SCOTLAND’S RECORD AGAINST NEW ZEALAND
Played 30 Won 0 Drawn 2 Lost 28
18 January 1964: Scotland 0 New Zealand 0
12 November 1983: Scotland 25 New Zealand 25
24 June 2000: New Zealand 69 Scotland 20
Five most recent matches
23 September 2007: Scotland 0 New Zealand 40
8 November 2008: Scotland 6 New Zealand 32
13 November 2010: Scotland 3 New Zealand 49
11 November 2012: Scotland 22 New Zealand 51
15 November 2014: Scotland 16 New Zealand 24
LAST TIME OUT
Scotland were in the running for the bulk of that game three years ago, and would have gone two points clear if Greig Laidlaw had been on target with a penalty 10 minutes from time. A late try from Jeremy Thrush sealed the win for the visitors.
Of the Scots who started that match at Murrayfield, only five are in the team again today: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Alex Dunbar, Finn Russell, Jonny Gray. None of the eight substitutes is involved at all this afternoon.
Centre Ryan Crotty and openside flanker Sam Cane are the only All Blacks to keep their starting places from four years ago. Luke Romano and Sonny Boy Williams have gone from the bench to starting berths, Wyatt Crockett was a substitute then and fulfils the same role today, and TJ Perenara started then but is on the bench this evening.