The All Blacks have ruffled a few feathers by bringing a second string side to battle at Murrayfield despite Scotland’s impressive win over Argentina. While it’s true that the Scots have never bested New Zealand in 29 attempts, there are probably a few more punters fancying their chances of an historic upset this week as a result. A similar team made short work of the Americans in Chicago, and as Steve Hansen has reminded us, “there’s no such thing as an All Blacks B side,” but if ever Scotland had a chance, this is most certainly it.
Vern Cotter had no trouble selecting his team this week, rolling out an identical starting lineup with the only changes among the reserves. Fraser Brown, Tim Swinson, and Johnnie Beattie replace Scott Lawson, Jim Hamilton, and Alasdair Strokosch, while Henry Pyrgos misses out due to concussion protocols with former skipper Chris Cusiter taking his place.
For New Zealand, however, only two players remain from the victory over England, captain Richie McCaw and Ben Smith, who moves to fullback this week. James Parsons wins his first cap in grand fashion, only two weeks displaced from his Barbarians run-out. Dominic Bird and Colin Slade have also been rewarded for being in country, leaving Steven Luatua, Francis Saili, and Frank Halai to stew on the sidelines.
Dan Carter makes his full return to test rugby after a brief appearance in Chicago, and he will at least have a familiar face beside him in fellow Cantabrian Ryan Crotty, one half of a potent midfield combination with Malakai Fekitoa. Luke Romano returns from a near six month absence with a broken ankle to find a place on the bench, where Augustine Pulu also sits hoping to add to his 20 minutes of international rugby.
Scotland are still a longshot, there’s no question about that, but they will have some new-found confidence coming into this one. Aside from McCaw and Carter, and maybe Fekitoa, the rest of the names aren’t particularly intimidating, but the jersey itself does tend to bring out the best in whoever wears it. Curiously New Zealand haven’t even stacked the bench, though Sonny Bill Williams and Julian Savea can certainly makes things happen should they be called upon.
If they bring the same attacking mindset that they did in the first half against the Pumas, Scotland can make a good fist of this. They’ll need to defend as though their lives depend on it, and take every scoring opportunity that comes their way, but this certainly doesn’t have to be the 30 or 40 point blowout that usually results from this challenge. Scotland will run out in their new red change strip, and maybe the new feel will spur them on to new territory. Expect them to put up a good fight, but ultimately fall to the class of the black jersey. New Zealand by 12.
SCOTLAND vs NEW ZEALAND
Saturday, November 15, 17:30 GMT, Edinburgh
Referee: Romain Poite (FFR)
Assistants: John Lacey (IRFU) & Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (WRU)