Scotland v New Zealand
Improving Scots no match for experimental All Blacks
Sam Bruce
November 14, 2014
Jonny Gray picked up a try in an impressive outing against Argentina last week © Getty Images

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  • Who can blame Vern Cotter for naming an unchanged Scotland side including fellow Kiwis Sean Maitland and Blair Cowan to face their compatriots after defeating Argentina 41-31 in the coach's first home game in charge? Cotter, meanwhile, has made four changes to his bench. Johnnie Beattie returns in place of Alastair Strokosch, and Fraser Brown and David Denton replace Scott Lawson and Jim Hamilton, who was sin-binned four minutes after coming on against Argentina. Former captain Chris Cusiter replaces the injured Henry Pyrgos.
  • Steve Hansen, meanwhile, has made 13 changes to the New Zealand side that defeated England at Twickenham, with Richie McCaw and Ben Smith to only players retain - albeit in different positions, with the captain shifted from openside to the blindside flank to cater for Sam Cane, and Smith moved to fullback to gift Colin Slade a start on the right wing. The coach explained his selection by saying he wanted to test his options ahead of the World Cup. Chief among the inclusions are the selection of Dan Carter at fly-half, Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa in the centres with Sonny Bill Williams benched, and Victor Vito replacing Kieran Read at No.8.

The toughest of their November assignments behind them, the All Blacks haven't exactly been able to leave the controversy of Twickenham behind them. The visitors emerged triumphant from an intense battle with England, defeating Stuart Lancaster's side 24-21 amid a flurry of video-replay and Television Match Official incidents. The debate over the use of video technology has hit new heights across the globe in the fallout while the world champions have tried their best to concentrate on this week's opponents, Scotland.

From the Borders to the Highlands, there's just a sniff of optimism about Scottish rugby. Not that they're a chance of a first ever victory over the the All Blacks; but fact there might be some light at the end of what has been a terrifyingly dark tunnel. The 41-31 victory over Argentina shows the Scots have made real progress under new coach Vern Cotter; but they'll need to improve on that effort dramatically if they're to be anything other than cannon fodder for the All Blacks on Saturday.

In form

A crucial missed tackle on Springboks fly-half Handre Pollard in Johannesburg during the Rugby Championship signalled the return of the Richie McCaw naysayers. But after a superb man-of-the-match performance against England, those same critics would be wise to put away the megaphones and admit that injury alone can stop the All Blacks skipper from having a major influence on Rugby World Cup 2015. Turnovers, tackles and a well-taken try - the final pass was behind him - showed he retains his ability to make the big plays and turn a game even if he is no longer making a nuisance of himself at every ruck.

Greg Laidlaw may not have been Cotter's first choice as Scotland captain, but that hasn't stopped him asserting himself as a stand-in skipper. The diminutive No.9 was a standout performer against the Pumas last weekend; his running game and goal-kicking keeping the hosts' scoreboard ticking as they completed a second victory over the South Americans in six months. Laidlaw's experience will be crucial as the Scots try to repel an early All Blacks onslaught.

Out of form

Dane Coles has been benched after he was at the centre of the TMO debate - along with referee Nigel Owens - and there is a growing belief that his "brain explosions" may come back to bite the All Blacks, even considering he may have been a little hard done by at Twickenham. ESPN's Craig Dowd singled out Coles for special attention in his column this week, saying the young hooker had become somewhat of a target for opposition "niggle". England used the ploy with success; Coles needs to heed the warnings when he comes off the bench at Murrayfield.

Dane Coles is becoming a fine Test player but must learn to control his emotions © Getty Images

It was hard to pick apart an impressive Scotland showing against the Pumas, but back-rower Robert Harley was one to have a quiet evening. The Glasgow blindside received a yellow card and generally struggled for impact amid the standout efforts of Richie and Jonny Gray. An early hit to the ribs may have had something to do with it, but he'll be keen to assert himself against the likes of McCaw, Kieran Read and Liam Messam regardless.

Key battle

The biggest challenge for Scotland is whether they can assert themselves on the match early on, and prove to the All Blacks they'll be anything but pushovers. A full Murrayfield and the positivity that's circulated since last week's triumph will surely create some eager Scottish players; should they fail to contain that nervous energy, however, mistakes will come and so too will New Zealand points. If the All Blacks cross for an early five-pointer, it could get very ugly, very quickly.


  • Scotland have never beaten New Zealand; their best results being draws at Murrayfield in 1964 and 1983.
  • Scotland have won four from five under Cotter, and the Kiwi's expansive game plan seems to be working; the 10-point win over Argentina marked the first time the Scots had scored four tries or more in 12 Tests.


New Zealand are overwhelming favourites at 1/25 with Scotland paying handsomely at 10/1 if you fancy an upset.


The gulf in class here remains as wide as ever despite Scotland's improvement under Cotter; the All Blacks will cruise to a 25-point win.

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