Scotland vs New Zealand preview

New Zealand have not lost a Test match to Scotland in the 27 times the two teams have played each other so simply notching up another victory over the Scots at Murrayfield this weekend will not be enough for All Blacks coach Graham Henry.


The Tri-Nations champions were not altogether convincing winners in a 26-16 victory over England at Twickenham last weekend that nevertheless kept alive hopes of a third ‘grand slam’ in five years.


In both 2005 and 2008, New Zealand made multiple changes against Scotland but, ahead of hosting next year’s World Cup, Henry has decided to stick with the bulk of the side that beat England.


Jimmy Cowan returns at scrum-half after starting in the defeat by Australia in Hong Kong a fortnight ago, with the gifted Conrad Smith back in the centres and Isaia Toeava on the right wing.


Meanwhile, flanker Liam Messon is back in the All Black pack.


“The plan for the tour is to try and improve as a rugby team; we haven’t quite done that yet,” Henry said.


“We’ve made a lot of changes in the game we play and that takes a bit of a while to cement in and you can’t develop as a team if you’ve got a huge number of changes each week.


“To fulfil the objective we’ve kept the changes to a minimum.”


New Zealand will discover later Friday if they can field Keven Mealamu against Scotland when the hooker’s appeal against a four-week suspension for headbutting England captain Lewis Moody is heard in Edinburgh.


The uncapped Hikawera Elliot will make his debut if Mealamu’s ban is upheld.


“We were always intending to play him and we hope we can,” Henry said of Mealamu. He’s a bit destroyed about what’s happened.”


A more encouraging note for the tourists is that captain Richie McCaw and full-back Mils Mulaina will both win their 92nd caps on Saturday, equalling former New Zealand captain Sean Fitzpatrick’s national record.


“What they’ve achieved has been immense,” said Henry. To be equalling Fitzy’s record – Fitzy was an icon of the game and these two are just as much – is the ultimate really.”


Scotland’s best results in 27 meetings against New Zealand dating back 104 years are a couple of draws – and the last of those was in 1983.


Few give much for their chances of matching the All Blacks’ pace, power or precision this weekend especially in what will be Scotland’s first international of the season.


But they do go into this game on the back of a four-match unbeaten run, including two Test wins in Argentina, and former Wales coach Henry has been impressed by Scotland’s progress under Andy Robinson.


“Andy’s doing a great job there,” Henry said. “They’re a pretty good all-round side. They’ve played very well in recent times, seem to have a lot of self-belief, they’re playing a good style of footy.


“Scotland are playing exceptionally well and we respect what they’re doing in the game and respect them as a team.”


If Scotland are to pull off one of the great upset wins, fly-half Dan Parks is likely to have to produce one of his best international displays.


“We know we’ve got a huge challenge ahead of us come the weekend but we’re very confident that we’re going into it with the right frame of mind and we’ve trained well,” said Australia-born Parks of a Scotland team missing the injured quintet of Alastair Kellock, Chris Cusiter, Johnnie Beattie, Simon Danielli and Alasdair Strokosch.


“We’re under no illusions,” added Parks.


“They are certainly the best team in the world and they’ve proven it, certainly in recent times — they’ve been in fantastic form.”

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