All Blacks tweak for Scots
Steve Hansen (Gallo Images)
Edinburgh - New Zealand has freshened up its lineup with sweeping changes for the opening match of its European tour, as the All Blacks seek to maintain its century-long undefeated record against Scotland.
Captain Richie McCaw and flyhalf Dan Carter were the big names picked by coach Steve Hansen for Sunday's game in Edinburgh, but there were eye-opening selections elsewhere in a starting team containing 10 changes to the XV that started the tryless 18-18 draw with Australia last month.
Sticking with his stated intention of giving every member of his squad a run-out early on tour, Hansen has named Ben Smith and Tamati Ellison in a new-look midfield combination while two uncapped players — hooker Dane Coles and scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow — should make their debuts from the bench. A slimmed-down Piri Weepu was also included at scrumhalf.
The world champions will look for more dynamism after a sluggish display in the Bledisloe Cup, which ended a 16-match unbeaten run and saw them fail to score a try for the first time in eight years. They will finish the tour with series-defining matches against Wales and England, when Hansen should choose his strongest possible sides.
"We have had a good build-up this week and the key for us has been to get our preparation spot on so we can put in a performance on Sunday which we are proud of," Hansen said.
By beating Australia 9-6 in Newcastle, Scotland was the only team among the home unions to earn a victory in the southern hemisphere in June. The All Blacks are still expected to have far too much for the hosts this weekend having won 26 and drawn the other two of the 28 matches played against the Scots since 1905.
"It will be very tough," shaggy-haired Scotland lock Richie Gray said. "It's about getting in their faces, putting them under a lot of pressure and, in defense, work rate, working really hard for each other and doing that for 80 minutes."
Even doing that probably won't be enough. Scotland's players, who haven't scored a try in their last seven matches against New Zealand, watched a video compilation of recent All Black errors in an attempt to believe the tourists can be beaten — but it won't have been very long.
"It maybe made us feel they were more human," said Gray, who has recovered from an ankle injury to make the starting team.
Scotland coach Andy Robinson made five changes in total to the side that beat Samoa in June to complete an unbeaten tour, including matches against Australia and Fiji.
Among them, lock Jim Hamilton returns from suspension and No. 8 Kelly Brown is back from injury to captain the team for the first time on his 50th cap.
"If we were to do it, it would be the best victory for Scottish rugby ever, but it's going to be a hard task," flyhalf Greg Laidlaw said. "There's no denying that."
In the All Blacks lineup, Adam Thomson is named as blindside flanker, moving Victor Vito from his regular position to No. 8 in a rejigged loose-forward department with McCaw.
Weepu makes a rare start at scrumhalf, ahead of first-choice No. 9 Aaron Smith, after showing improved fitness.
The teams last met at Edinburgh in 2010 when New Zealand won 49-3.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Sean Lamont, Nick De Luca, Matt Scott, Tim Visser, Greig Laidlaw, Mike Blair, Kelly Brown (captain), Ross Rennie, Alasdair Strokosch, Jim Hamilton, Richie Gray, Geoff Cross, Ross Ford, Ryan Grant. Reserves: Scott Lawson, Allan Jacobsen, Kyle Traynor, Alastair Kellock, David Denton, Henry Pyrgos, Ruaridh Jackson, Max Evans.
New Zealand: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Ben Smith, Tamati Ellison, Julian Savea, Dan Carter, Piri Weepu, Victor Vito, Richie McCaw (captain), Adam Thomson, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock, Ben Franks, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Ma'a Nonu.