ONCE bitten, twice shy. New Zealand came too close for comfort to losing their long unbeaten record against Scotland the last time they were in Edinburgh back in 2014 after naming a relatively inexperienced team. They are clearly determined not to run that risk again, having named as close to possible to a full-strength team as they seek to make it 31 games without a loss when the two sides clash at Murrayfield on Saturday evening.
Three years ago, All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen made 12 changes to the squad which played England the week before for their Murrayfield outing, and he must have feared that he had made an awful mistake when Greig Laidlaw kicked a 66th minute penalty for the hosts which made it 16-17 to New Zealand as the game entered the home straight.
A late try from Jeremy Thursh, converted by Colin Slade, eventually eased New Zealand home, and a lesson seems to have been learned because Hansen has named has selected all his available big-hitter for this weekend’s rematch.
It is an unchanged team to the one which took the field against France last weekend, apart from at hooker where Codie Taylor comes in for Dane Coles. who has returned home after rupturing his ACL.
“Last time we rolled the dice a bit. We had a far more experienced group, too. This time we had to roll the dice on Tuesday. [when the All Blacks second string took on a French select XV],” said the coach.
“I think Vern [Cotter] has done a great job with them [Scotland] and Gregor [Townsend] will add his touch. The forwards give them a bit of edge and Gregor will polish it into a gem I would imagine,” he continued.
“Every game we play we approach the same, try to get better than the week before. Saturday is the fun time. If we didn’t have to do Sunday to Friday I’d still be playing myself – probably not at this level.”
Squad captain Kieran Read will wear the number eight jersey, despite a hip flexor issue which was one of the reasons the All Blacks delayed naming their team by a few hours yesterday so that he could test the injury at training.
“I wouldn’t be playing him if we weren’t confident,” said the coach at the team announcement.
Stand-off Beauden Barrett and winger Rieko Ioane are also in the team, fresh from being nominated onto the short-list for World Rugby player of the year. This is the second consecutive year Barrett has made the list, but Ioane is a newcomer, having only made his international debut in the first Test of last summer’s British and Irish Lions tour. Hansen was at his dead-pan best when asked how he rated the 20-year-old’s international season so far.
“Pretty good, he said. “Very pretty good,” he added, when prompted to elaborate. “He’s played well. He’s an exciting player. When he gets the ball, everyone holds their breath. He only needs half a yard and he’s quick.”
New Zealand (v Scotland at BT Murrayfield on Saturday 18th November at 5.15pm): D Mckenzie; W Naholo, R Crotty, S Williams, R Ioane; B Barrett, A Smith; K Hames, C Taylor, N Laulala, L Romano, S Whitelock, V Fifita, S Cane, K Read©. Subs: N Harris, W Crockett, O Tu’ungafasi, L Squire, M Todd, T Perenara, L Sopoaga, A Lienert-Brown.