TAKING a strict form guide through Scotland’s rugby team defeating an Australian side on home turf and the Wallabies then holding New Zealand to a draw last weekend, the hosts must surely start favourites when the world champions visit Murrayfield on November 11?
Of course, sport doesn’t work that way and what national coach Andy Robinson knows, aside from the fact Scotland have never beaten the All Blacks in 28 meetings (two draws), is the type of effort that will be required to make history. And Robinson is also astute enough to emphasise his squad’s strengths and past achievements no matter how badly Edinburgh and Glasgow teams – who provide 25 of the 34 man squad – might be performing at present.
Understandably, Robinson is even happier stressing the way things can quickly be turned around in rugby which leads nicely on to how a 49-3 defeat by the kiwis on their last visit was followed immediately by a 21-17 victory over then world champions, South Africa.
Recalling how that was achieved, he said: “There needs to be a huge defensive performance and that’s what we had that day. And it has to be for 80 minutes. In all games where we bring a huge physical part to our game, that makes a huge difference.”
Encouragingly, too, when Robinson talks of New Zealand there is only well earned respect and none of the deference which had the men from the land of the long white cloud placed on a pedestal by previous Murrayfield regimes to the extent that many were entitled to ask how the pupils were ever expected to defeat the acknowledged masters.
Referring to what will have to be overcome, Robinson said: “When you do the analysis of the way New Zealand play you see they do the basics very well. That’s what we have to be able to see from our players.
“New Zealand show quality, consistently.”
A ground-breaking victory would also complete a notable Autumn trinity in Robinson’s tenure have previously seen off Australia in Edinburgh as well as the Springboks.
Again by contrast with previous regimes there is a feeling Robinson refuses to be rushed into capping Sean Maitland even though the ex-Canterbury Crusaders wing is now keen to exercise eligibility stemming from his grandparents when he joins Glasgow shortly.
Scotland have had fingers burnt before in this department notably when Steve Shingler was deemed ineligible due to having represented Wales under-20, officially that country’s nominated second team.
New Zealand, on the other hand, currently list their “Junior All Blacks” as understudies and they haven’t played since 2009 when Maitland was making his way up the ladder – and providing that was the case in 2008 when he was an under-20 cap he is eligible for Scotland now.
So, it could have been all systems go; instead Maitland will probably turn out first for Scotland A and the wingers will be chosen from Lee Jones, Tim Visser, Sean Lamont and Tommy Seymour, one of seven uncapped players. Robinson has also got established combinations at his disposal that could well mean the Edinburgh combo of Nick De Luca and Matt Scott starting since Glasgow pair Alex Dunbar and Peter Horne are both uncapped.
Some eyebrows will be raised that there is no room for Edinburgh full back Greig Tonks of whom Robinson said: “He came close. He was unlucky but Peter Murchie’s aerial skills just won over him.”
However, disappointment in the Edinburgh camp will be offset by the inclusion of Grant Gilchrist and Stuart McInally, the latter at a time when there is the type of back row competition the coach can only dream ofin other positions.
The big worry and a source of intense preparation if it is not to become an Achilles’ heel comes in the form of a change of legislation allowing for two prop forwards to provide bench cover. The problem is that Scotland only have one fit or available tight head (right side) prop given Euan Murray’s refusal to play on Sundays for religious reasons.
Glasgow’s Ryan Grant is expected to understudy Geoff Cross and to his credit Robinson is realistic. “I have worked with Ryan when I was coaching Edinburgh and we will be using him as our second tight head prop. He has been practising that at Glasgow. We are going to be under pressure there and a lot of this is going to be about manning up.
“We haven’t played together since June and where the challenge is slightly different to previous Autumn Tests is in the fact New Zealand were playing in the Rugby Championship (versus Australia, South Africa and Argentine) until the first week of October. They also played Australia last week and in terms of systems they will be ahead of us.”