Preview: Scotland v New Zealand

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 08:09
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NOVEMBER INTERNATIONAL SEASON: Sonny Bill Williams confesses to being unaware that the All Blacks have never lost to Scotland but insists the back-to-back world champions are "on edge" as they prepare for a Test that falls on the 112th anniversary of the first match between the countries.

Since the 'Original' All Blacks beat Scotland 12-7 on a skating rink of a pitch at Inverleith in Edinburgh on November 18, 1905, New Zealand have maintained an historic aura of invincibility against the Scots.

They've won 28 out of 30 Tests between the sides with two Murrayfield draws (0-0 in 1964 and 25-25 in 1983) the closest Scotland have come to victory.

"I wasn't aware of that," said Williams, retained at inside centre for Saturday's match at Murrayfield despite the mental aberration he suffered, together with a yellow card, when batting the ball out of play in the second half of the world champions' 38-18 win against France in Paris last weekend.

"Obviously it is motivation," the Blues player added, when asked about avoiding becoming a member of the first New Zealand side to fall to the Scots.

"But as All Blacks we always put pressure on ourselves to not just win but play well."

Last Saturday, Scotland leaked five tries in a 44-38 victory against a Samoa side the All Blacks thrashed 78-0 five months ago but Williams pointed to Scotland's 24-19 win against Australia in Sydney in June, in Gregor Townsend's second match as coach, as a warning sign.

"It's really put us on the edge of our seats in our preparation, knowing that they can knock off the big boys," said Williams, whose mother is of Scottish descent.

"They've got some dangerous players and the flavour of the rugby they're playing at the moment is great to see. Coming up against that has put us on edge."

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has afforded Scotland the respect of selecting a full-strength side, the only change to the starting XV that beat France being the introduction of Codie Taylor for the injured Dane Coles at hooker. 

On New Zealand's last visit to Edinburgh, in 2014, Hansen picked a largely experimental team, making 13 changes to the side that had beaten England the week before.

With six minutes left they were just a single point ahead, before a converted try by Jeremy Thrush secured a 24-16 victory.

Townsend suffered six defeats out of six against New Zealand in his playing days - including two 60-point hammerings - and, despite the monumental defensive effort that held out the Wallabies in Sydney in June, the former Scotland flyhalf knows his side need to improve significantly on their sloppy showing against Samoa.

"We will have to be very, very good in all aspects or New Zealand will score points against us," said Townsend, who has promoted prop Zander Fagerson and No.8 Cornell du Preez to replace the injured WP Nel and Ryan Wilson. 

"They're an excellent side. They score points against any defence."

In Paris, a neat grubber kick from Williams gave fellow centre Ryan Crotty the chance to score a try that made the All Blacks the first international side to reach the landmark of 2,000 tries.  

However, the 32-year-old was widely criticised for knocking the ball out of play in the in-goal area to deny France a possible try - a ploy that is allowed in one of his former sports, rugby league.

"It was just an honest mistake," said Williams, who has also dabbled in boxing. "I guess, as humans, we're all allowed to make those now and then. I've certainly been looking up the rule books because of that."

Players to watch:

For Scotland: Stuart Hogg has been a consistent performer for his country while there seems to be no stopping the rise of centre Huw Jones. Stuart McInally provided a solid anchor at scrum time last week and much is expected of him again.

For New Zealand: Close your eyes and pick any number between one and 23. Damian McKenzie is making the number 15 jersey his own since Ben Smith's sabbatical while Rieko Ioane has been the talk of the town since his debut not too long ago. Expect Kieran Read to fly under the radar but still have a massive influence on his team.

Head to head: No.8 Cornell du Preez gets to make his run-on debut and what a task he has as he lines up opposite Kieran Read. Finn Russell has the potential to be a game changer and it will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure of lining up against Beauden Barrett. 

Results this century:

2014: New Zealand won 24-16, Edinburgh
2012: New Zealand won 51-22, Edinburgh
2010: New Zealand won 49-3, Edinburgh
2008: New Zealand won 32-6, Edinburgh
2007: New Zealand won 40-0, Edinburgh (WC pool game)
2005: New Zealand won 29-10, Edinburgh
2001: New Zealand won 37-6, Edinburgh
2000: New Zealand won 48-14, Auckland
2000: New Zealand won 69-20, Dunedin

Prediction: Scotland will certainly put up a brave fight and will be in the contest for some of the first half but will find it hard to keep up with the pace of the best side in the world as the game goes on. New Zealand should claim a comfortable victory by about 24 points.


Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Lee Jones, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 John Barclay (captain), 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Ben Toolis, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Darryl Marfo.
Replacements: 16 George Turner, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Grant Gilchrist, 20 Luke Hamilton, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Byron McGuigan.

New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Liam Squire, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Thomas Perenara, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.

Date: Saturday, November 18
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 17.15 (17.15 GMT; 06.15, Sunday, November 19 NZ time)
Expected weather: It is going to be a chilly one with a high of just 6°C.
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Ian Davies (Wales)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)

Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com