New Zealand name strongest possible side to face Scotland

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The All Blacks have made just one change to the starting XV that beat France 39-18 last Saturday in Paris and even that was forced upon them with the injury to the hooker Dane Coles who is out of action and out of the tour.

His place in the middle of the front row is taken by Codie Taylor, Nathan Harris comes on to the bench as does breakaway Liam Squire who was a member of the team that beat a French XV in Lyon on Tuesday evening.

New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen. Picture: SNS

New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen. Picture: SNS

The last time these two teams met in 2014, New Zealand fielded a second-string side to the disappointment of the crowd and Greig Laidlaw missed a penalty attempt that would have given Scotland a late lead.

Now in a nod to Scotland’s recent improvement in World Rugby’s rankings, not least their victory over Australia in Sydney last June, All Blacks boss Steve Hansen picked his strongest available squad.

Beaudon Barrett starts inside the experienced midfield combination of Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty with the finishing power of Waisake Naholo on one wing and the raw pace of Reiko Ioane on the other.

The electric winger is up for World Rugby’s breakthrough player of the year and the player of the year at the end of season awards so what did his coach make of Ioane’s year?

“Pretty good,” was Hansen’s brief summary, which he expanded upon.

“Very, pretty good. He’s played well. He’s an exciting player. When he gets the ball everyone holds their breath. He only needs half a yard and he’s quick!”

Scotland have been warned, but in truth this New Zealand squad could win it any one of several ways, up front or with the weapons out wide.

“Last time we rolled the dice a bit,” said Hansen when asked about this selection.

“We had a far more experienced group too. This time we had to roll the dice on Tuesday. There is no need to roll the dice again.”

In 2014 the Scots pushed their illustrious opponents for the full 80, so what was Hansen expecting from the boys in blue tomorrow?

“I think Vern’s [Cotter] done a great job with them,” said Hansen, pictured, “and Gregor [Townsend] will add his touch, the forwards give them a bit of edge and Gregor will polish it into a gem I would imagine.

“Every game we play we approach the same, try to get better than the week before. Saturday’s the fun time. If we didn’t have to do Sunday to Friday I’d still be playing myself… probably not at this level.”

New Zealand continued their inconsistent season last Saturday when they dominated the first 40 minutes against France, scored four tries and had the match all but sewn up by half-time. After the break France improved dramatically and after enjoying 73 per cent of territorial advantage in the first half the All Blacks found themselves pinned inside their own half for 88 per cent of the second period.

What improvements would the coach like to see from that Paris match?

“I’d like to see us lower the penalty count for offsides,” Hansen offered in his typically laconic style.

The Scottish forwards, lightweight but skilful and quick over the ground, will offer the All Blacks a very different challenge to the French behemoths but whether they can get on to the front foot will be the big question? Hansen admitted he had seen the damage Samoa’s big men had done to the Scots but he wasn’t anticipating a repeat of last weekend’s game on the basis that the Scots are sure to tighten up.

“I don’t mind where we score them as long as we score,” said the coach. “We saw the Samoan forwards [scoring]. I think everyone saw that, I’m sure Scottish coaches did too. Those opportunities might not be there this week. We might have to find them somewhere else.”

He may also have to find a new captain since Kieran Reid is nursing an injury to his hip flexor and Sam Cane has been running at eight in training in case the injury worsens.

Incidentally, the last time Sam Whitelock played club rugby for Lincoln University a few years back, the All Blacks lock was paired with Scotland reserve Grant Gilchrist, who was taking advantage of the Macphail scholarship.

In similar fashion, Namibian-born winger Byron McGuigan played a season of club rugby at Bay of Plenty although 
there was some debate as to whether it was the same man (it was).

Both Cane and Whitelock were promising to catch up with former friends for a chinwag tomorrow but only after the serious stuff is out of the way.