Acid test awaits Scots
October 26, 2010
Can Andy Robinson's side back up their historic series win over the Pumas with a strong showing next month? © PA Photos
What is the most successful sporting franchise ever? Brazil's soccer team of the 1970's? The Yankees in baseball or the Chiacgo Bulls with Michael Jordan in his pomp? The "Galacticos" of Real Madrid? How about the All Blacks? The current crew have won 86% of all their Tests since Graham Henry took the reins and only five countries have ever bested them in the long history of the game!
South Africa, Australia, England (6 times in 33 attempts), France and Wales (not since the 1953). Scotland have yet to claim that scalp, two draws is the best they can boast about, and they are unlikely to do so come November 13.
Should their visitors arrive with two more wins under their belts, against Australia in Hong Kong this coming weekend and England on November 6, then Richie McCaw's men will be on target to beat the long-standing record for consecutive Test match wins. (Actually Lithuania have recently chalked up 18 on the bounce but since they are not included among the tier one Test teams that stat gets brushed under the carpet.)
Andy Robinson stated last week that he very much hopes Murrayfield hosts the record attempt since it would only add further to what promises to be a great occasion. Well, it promises to be a great occasion if Scotland can put up a fight and after a series win in Argentina they should do that much.
Much will depend upon selection where Robinson has already said that he knows 12/13 of his starting 15. Ross Ford will start at hooker, because the coach said as much, and provided his foot recovers in time Dan Parks will start at ten because he has all too little competition.
The problem positions are probably at tight-head prop and at outside centre /wing/fullback which may look like three but it really boils down to one decision with the players left over slotting into the empty berths.
Robinson knows that that this All Black side are reinventing the way the game is played with backs attacking from every corner of the field and the passing is increasingly influenced by rugby league with one handed offloads out the back of the hand becoming the norm rather than the exception. Thank you Sonny Bill Williams. Scotland can't compete there and probably won't try to.
Instead Robbo will select the very best scrum and lineout that he can. It's the "prevention is better than cure" route. Don't give the Kiwis the ball or, if you must, then make sure it is scrappy stuff. One area of weakness in the formidable All Black armoury is at scrum-half and Rory Lawson (or Mike Blair) will be instructed to get closer to Jimmy Cowan (or Andy Ellis) than his deodorant to disrupt his service.
Robinson will look at his front row and probably pick Allan Jacobsen, Ford and Euan Murray as the best scrummaging unit available. He will look at his second row and opt for Richie Gray and Jim Hamilton as the best lineout duo with the aggression of Nathan Hines to call off the bench. He will probably go for Kelly Brown, Richie Vernon and John Barclay in the backrow with the latter a decent bet to captain the side for the first time. He had a great tussle with McCaw on his Test debut back in 2007 and Barclay has the character to lead this team right through to next year's World Cup and beyond.
In the backs Scotland have a problem to get to grips with...namely getting to grips with the opposition backs because there is a yawning chasm in pace and skills between the two back lines. Injuries to key players like Nick De Luca and Simon Danielli mean that the Scots' cupboard suddenly resembles Old Mother Hubbards.
Graham Morrison has been outstanding for Glasgow and he is a shoo-in for the number twelve shirt. Rory Lamont is a likely candidate for one wing berth and Stade Francais' Hugo Southwell deserves the fifteen shirt because he didn't put a foot wrong in Argentina. That leaves Nikki Walker, Max Evans and Sean Lamont vying for the 13 and 14 shirts.
Scotland's soccer team recently took to the field against the Czech Republic with a bizarre formation that featured no striker. They lost the match and were ridiculed into the bargain. Rugby's equivalent for the Scots would be to play Sean Lamont at 13. He is robust in defence but he lacks the footwork, handling skills or acceleration to trouble the All Black defence.
Max Evans may be a defensive liability, at least at the very highest level, but in leaving him on the bench and selecting instead a giant line up of outside backs: R Lamont, Morrison, S Lamont, Walker, Scotland would effectively be admitting that they didn't trust their quick men to do anything other than tackle and chase the high kicks. It would be the rugby equivalent of parking the bus in front of the goal mouth.
The damage to morale would outweigh any incremental tactical advantage so Evans should start unless, of course, it's raining cats and dogs.
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