Cameron Black revisits the questions we posed at the start of the Autumn Internationals to see what we learned from the game against Argentina
Humility is an attribute that is getting rarer in contemporary professional sport. With football players refusing to play so they can get big money transfers and NFL MVPs obligated to say they are “going to Disneyland!” you are unlikely to see the best of the best refusing to celebrate or a last-gasp loser showing magnanimity.
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.