Emboldened Scots believe NZ can finally be beaten
Nov. 13, 2014
EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) — Scotland has been abuzz about its new-look national rugby team which posted an eyebrow-raising 41 points in a win against Argentina last weekend.
An industrious forward pack was suddenly married to a frisky backline, and the tries flowed at Murrayfield last Saturday: Five in a game for only the second time in six years. It added up to Scotland's highest score against a top-10 team since world rankings began 11 years ago.
The defense wasn't so hot, giving up 31 points, but the verve of Scotland's attack muted that concern. The positive vibes ought to last until Scotland's next kickoff on Saturday, because nobody rains on a Scottish parade better than New Zealand, which has never lost to the Scots since their first test 109 years ago.
The 30th matchup on Saturday, for which tickets were still selling on Thursday, should also go the All Blacks' way, but the scoreline might not be so one-sided.
While Scotland will field an unchanged XV, New Zealand is barely recognizable from the team which defeated England 24-21 at Twickenham last Saturday. Only captain Richie McCaw and Ben Smith have kept their places in the run-on side, but in different positions. McCaw will start on the blindside flank for the first time, and Smith has moved from the wing to fullback.
The team also features a first start in a year for flyhalf Dan Carter, flyhalf Colin Slade on the wing, and uncapped Blues hooker James Parsons. Parsons, Slade and lock Dominic Bird were all late callups after playing for the Barbarians against Australia. With the involvement of McCaw and Carter, New Zealand's two most influential players for more than a decade, Scotland doesn't believe it's been underestimated, or facing a B side. Seven of the New Zealand reserves were involved at Twickenham.
"For every man that steps in that jersey, it means the same thing to all of them. Having been raised in New Zealand, I know how much it means to all of them," said Scotland flanker Blair Cowan, who moved to Britain in 2009, qualified for Scotland through his mother, Joan, and made his debut in June.
"By no means, if we win, will anything be taken away from us because of the changes they made. They could pick from another 20-odd players and it would still be a world-class team. If we win, it will be because we were the best on the day."
Another Kiwi, coach Vern Cotter, who has improved the Scots' self-belief, style, and results in mere months, believed they will receive the test they deserve.
"The (New Zealand) guys will be eager to become part of the legend," Cotter said. "We don't see it as a weakened side. If anything, we see it that we are playing against future greats."
Those future greats, armed with a blistering set of loose forwards and Carter's unrivalled eye, will be concentrating on a good start. When the All Blacks conceded a third-minute try at Twickenham last weekend, it continued a trend. Their tryline has been crossed inside 15 minutes this year by Australia in Brisbane, South Africa in Johannesburg and Wellington, and England again in Dunedin.
"A lot of things are contributing to us starting slowly, so we're just really focusing on some simple things to help us get off to a good start, which means we are not having to chase it so late in the game," New Zealand hooker Keven Mealamu said.
They usually start well at Murrayfield, where they have won the game by halftime on their last five visits since 2005.
While Scotland enjoyed its refreshingly open, kick-chase strategy last weekend, it also perked up the best counterattackers in the business.
"Their ability to use the ball is a bit more expansive now," Mealamu noted. "We are seeing a lot of teams with that willingness to play. And when teams kick, it is a lot more contestable now, not just long and out. It makes for good rugby to watch and also good rugby to play in because you are always on edge.
"That willingness to open the game up is something we haven't seen in games against Scotland before, so it looks really positive."
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland, Mark Bennett, Alex Dunbar, Tommy Seymour, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (captain); Adam Ashe, Blair Cowan, Rob Harley, Jonny Gray, Richie Gray, Euan Murray, Ross Ford, Alastair Dickinson. Reserves: Fraser Brown, Gordon Reid, Geoff Cross, Tim Swinson, Johnnie Beattie, Chris Cusiter, Duncan Weir, Sean Lamont.
New Zealand: Ben Smith, Colin Slade, Malakai Fekitoa, Ryan Crotty, Charles Piutau, Dan Carter, TJ Perenara; Victor Vito, Sam Cane, Richie McCaw (captain), Dominic Bird, Jeremy Thrush, Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons, Joe Moody. Reserves: Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Luke Romano, Liam Messam, Augustine Pulu, Sonny Bill Williams, Julian Savea.