Or maybe just to Japan. When will we see his like again? Wayne Barnes will now take over the Grand Slam decider on Saturday.
After the widely derided World Cup ‘B’ Team played against New Zealand on their last visit to Murrayfield, it will be interesting to test our full XV against the might All Blacks. Your fearless Scottish Rugby Blog correspondent will be in attendance. But can we (unlike Scubbsy) man up, and get a result?
Yes We Can:
- They have lost a few first choice players. Either to the Northern Hemisphere (Chris Jack, Carl Hayman, Luke McAllister et al) and to injury (Andrew Hore). The frightening strength in depth of the pre-World Cup era in depth seems to be absent. After another choke in the World Cup, Kiwi support for Graeme Henry is balanced on a knife edge and depends only, you feel, on the results they get. For the first time, the All Blacks seem almost fallible.
- We get them first. They will be fresh in the country, getting used to the crappy weather we have made our national speciality. They definitely looked a little rusty against Australia. The big one for them is in four weeks against England. We’re just a warm up. Regardless of what they might say, they won’t be targeting this as a tough match. Let’s hope we can catch them off guard with a decent performance before they gel too well. Our players are mostly match sharp and some (Murray, Barclay, Taylor, Blair, Rory Lamont, Thom Evans) are in pretty good – even great – form.
- The All Black set piece was looking a little ropey against the Aussies. If Euan Murray can continue his current form perhaps he can reverse the current tales of front row woe that we are used to. Hadden’s choice of second row might of course affect our ability in this area too. My choice would be MacLeod and Taylor, but that is looking less likely. If we can get parity and hold our defence, we have a chance. A slim one, but a chance.
- Wayne Barnes is the referee. While one hopes that he is not anxious to make amends to the nation of the Long White Cloud for allowing that forward pass, he has been solid all season and is one of the referees who is definitely upholding the new protocols regarding the breakdown. We’ve been playing under them all season. The Kiwis have only had the ANZ Cup and one Bledisloe Cup test to get used to the much stricter refereeing of that area. In particular, flopping over the ball to protect it is an area that could see Richie McCaw either deliver a masterclass (from which John Barclay will learn much) or be penalised off the park.
No We Can’t:
- It’s the All Blacks, for pete’s sakes. We’ve never beaten them. Ever. Played 27, lost 25, drawn 2. The last draw was in 1983. We haven’t bothered going there on a summer tour since 2000. It’s no fun getting whipped on your summer holiday.
- The frightening strength in depth only seems to be absent because we haven’t heard of any of them this side of the world. Let’s face it, Stephen Donald would walk into the Scotland XV. He even kicks a bit like Parko. Corey Jane may sound like a girl’s name, but as Al pointed out once, so does Nikki Walker. Whichever back three they play it will be talented, very fast and there on merit. Can we say the same?
- We’ll probably play Dan Parks. You don’t have to play a kicking game under the new ELVs, but it does seem to happen a fair bit. Ergo Hadden may feel he must play Parks. It’s the fashion. Nevermind the sense that Mike Brewer talks about wanting to score tries. We’ll probably also play some other guys short of match practice or form (White, Webster, Paterson) ahead of less experienced, in-form players.
- Scotland have only had a few days to work together. Some of our likely inclusions (Strokosch, Rory Lamont) have been disruptively recalled to their clubs this weekend. Lamont was not picked for Sale yesterday, so he didn’t really need to go. It doesn’t help.
- Our strength in depth is also frightening, in a different sense. Possible Kiwi frailties in the centre could be countered if we had a few more experienced operators in that area. If he’s given a chance, this test series could be the making of Ben Cairns, not to mention Nick De Luca. These matches would be ideal for giving these guys and Max Evans chance to get experience at test level. But because of the pressure for World Cup seedings (is it really going to happen?) Hadden may opt for the conservative route. Our one area of genuine depth, the back row – is the area where they have Richie McCaw and Rodney So’oialo.
In short, Scotland will have to play the game of their lives simply to stay in contention. Putting aside the World Cup draw (even as a third seed, we could still end up with a group involving say, Argentina and Ireland which wouldn’t be that scary) there’s nothing to lose, and with a little luck, a little slice of history to gain.
Starting in August, the ELVs (Experimental Law Variations) for Rugby Union will be given a global trial. Some of them we have seen already in the Super 14, and most of the more controversial ones were slapped down. A total of 13 of the proposed 23 are to be trialled, which will more than likely result in their adoption thereafter. Here they are in all their glory:
ELVs to be trialled worldwide
- Assistant Referees can assist referees in any manner required when appointed by a match organiser. Not sure if this refers to touch judges. Does this mean the time keeper can point out spear tackles?
Posts and flags around the field
- The corner posts are no longer considered to be in touch in-goal except when a ball is grounded against the post. This may make Shane Williams and Mark Cueto very happy.
Lineout and throw
- If a team puts the ball back into their own 22 and the ball is subsequently kicked directly into touch there is no gain of ground. This will hopefully encourage counter-attacking and discourage aerial ping-pong. Expect a few wingers to forget about this one and put their fullback under undue pressure.
- A quick throw may be thrown in straight or towards the throwing team’s own goal line. They are rarely straight anyway. Again this should encourage counter-attacking.
- There is no restriction on the number of players who can participate in the lineout from either side (minimum of two). Allows you to pile on the pressure to the opponents throw on a tight 5 metre lineout to try and steal attacking ball. Just don’t then maul it (see below). Might bring some interesting tactical choices to be exploited – who do you leave out, will it leave a gap etc?
- The receiver in a lineout must stand 2 metres back from the lineout. Meh.
- The player who is in opposition to the player throwing in the ball may stand in the area between the 5 metre line and touch line but must be 2 metres away from the lineout. Might give speedy hookers a chance to rampage down the touchline.
- Lineout players may pre-grip a jumper before the ball is thrown in. Will this really give anyone an advantage? May lead to an outbreak of bluffing by means of pre-emptive shirt grabbing.
- The lifting of lineout jumpers is permitted. Wait, what? Isn’t this permitted already? I guess this must be an ELV that is already in trial, as they do it every week. Checking the rule book (as of 2007) turns out no, they are just allowed to support players that have already jumped 8ft in the air.
- Players are able to defend a maul by pulling it down. Endless up the jumper rugby should become a thing of the past. Opponents of this law claim it is dangerous, and gives advantage to weaker packs. Should suit Scotland, then. No, wait, we have a bunch of brutes. I am outraged, outraged I say.
- Remove reference in Law to heads and shoulders not to be lower than hips. Knees and toes, knees and toes. Sorry, I fell asleep there.
- Introduction of an offside line five metres behind the hindmost feet of the scrum. Presumably this is to give players at 10 and 12 more time to fire up their backline with exciting attacking moves, or to ease the likelihood of a Dan Parks chargedown. Master of the blitz defence Shaun Edwards will no doubt find a way around it.
- Scrum half offside lines (must be in close proximity to the scrum as present Law or must retreat five metres). Not sure what this will change.
They left out making almost everything penalty-wise a free kick – got to give the forwards a chance for a breather – and allowing handling in the ruck, which were two of the more controversial proposals. We will see the free-kick thing trialled in the Northern Hemisphere at some point though.
Disappointed to see that they made not putting the ball into the scrum straight legal. Oh, no, wait…they didn’t.