All Blacks set sights on Scots
November 11, 2010
Mils Muliaina is set for cap number 92 © Getty Images
Scotland boss Andy Robinson will get a true litmus test of his side's credentials when they take on New Zealand at Murrayfield on Saturday.
The former England boss oversaw a rare series win over Argentina in June as well as an away win over Ireland at the tail end of the Six Nations but the All Blacks represent another huge step up for an improving squad.
Richie McCaw and Mils Muliaina will equal Sean Fitzpatrick's caps record for the All Blacks and will be keen to inspire a victory in the second leg of a possible third Grand Slam tour in five years.
Scotland - Player to Watch: John Barclay may be missing his mucker Johnnie Beattie at No.8 but the Glasgow openside will still be confident that he can put a spanner in the works at the breakdown. Going up against Richie McCaw is one of the game's great tests and he needs to secure a pass mark at least.
Scotland - Team News: Scrum-half Mike Blair leads a side showing five changes from the June win over Argentina. Winger Rory Lamont, prop Euan Murray, No.8 Richie Vernon and lock Richie Gray all come in to the starting XV while Blair himself completes the makeover.
New Zealand - Player to Watch: It took him a while to get going in an All Blacks jersey but Hosea Gear looked the real deal at Twickenham. He scored his first Test try against the English but any further five-pointers this weekend will not be greeted quite as warmly as that one was in Edinburgh.
New Zealand - Team News: Conrad Smith comes into the midfield to partner Sonny Bill Williams, Ma'a Nonu dropping to the bench, while Liam Messam replaces Jerome Kaino at blindside. Isaia Toeava starts on the opposite wing to Gear as Joe Rokocoko gets a rest and Jimmy Cowan is restored to the starting line-up at scrum-half. Hika Elliot hstarts at hooker after Keven Mealamu failed to have his ban for striking overturned.
Key Battle: Scotland will likely require a defensive effort similar to the one that did for Australia 12 months ago but a strong showing from their back-row in limiting the All Blacks' flow of quick ball will be the deciding factor in any shock result.
Trivia: Roy Laidlaw, uncle of Scotland's replacement scrum-half Greig, started in the No.9 jersey the last time they drew with the All Blacks, 25-25 in 1983.
Stats: All Blacks fly-half Dan Carter tops most of their scoring charts but is way behind Andrew Mehrtens against the Scots. In seven Tests against Scotland between 1995 and 2001 the former Crusaders playmaker slotted 108 points, including 31 conversions.
"We believe as a squad that if we can match the All Blacks' skill and intensity, that, with the Murrayfield crowd behind us, it can put us into a position where we can win a Test match against New Zealand." - Scotland skipper Mike Blair.
"I couldn't think of two better people than Richie and Mils to beat my record. They are outstanding All Blacks, good leaders of men and for me it's an honour to pass the baton on to those two." - Former All Black Sean Fitzpatrick.
Prediction: Scotland are the most improved side in the northern hemisphere but they just don't have the quality to overturn the All Blacks on the scoreboard.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September