Scottish renaissance not lost on All Blacks

GRAHAM Henry has promised he will not repeat his tactic of previous tours to the northern hemisphere when he named experimental sides for New Zealand's matches against Scotland.

• All Blacks coach Graham Henry has been impressed by Andy Robinson's record Picture: Getty

The All Blacks arrived in Edinburgh yesterday ahead of their meeting with Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday, and checked into their hotel in Holyrood where they launched straight into business with a media briefing last night.

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Despite confessing that he had not yet found time to watch the full match footage of any of Scotland's recent outings, the All Blacks coach says he has seen and heard enough about the progress the side is making under Andy Robinson to recognise that this Saturday's contest could be one of the toughest challenges his team will face this November.

"I watch the parts of games that I need to watch, so I haven't watched them play a full 80 minutes, but from the reports I see and hear I know that they are playing really well," said Henry.

"They've got a very good record in recent times. Andy Robinson is obviously doing a very fine job.

"To go and win two Test matches in Argentina last summer is a fine effort. Teams don't do that very often, and then the next week Argentina gave the French a hammering - so they've done very well.

"They drew 15-all with the English in the second last game of the Six Nations last year, then the following week they beat Ireland, and last November they beat Australia. So I think they are probably one of the toughest games on the tour. Although I don't think there are any easy games.

"It may be a fact that we played a lot of players who were not in the top 15 the last time we visited Scotland - I don't think you'll find that happening this time.

"The objective of the tour is to try and improve what we were doing during the Tri Nations. We haven't fulfilled that objective yet. To do that you've got to play strong sides. You can't expect to build by throwing all sorts of different players in every game. So we'll continue that philosophy in this game.

"A little while back we'd had a lot of victories. Last year we had a few hiccups and we're just trying to build this team again.

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"One year, when we were here, we played two completely different sides against Wales and Ireland. We don't have that number of players here this time. We've only got 29 to start with."

Henry was clearly a frustrated man last night as he began preparation for the second leg of his campaign to secure a second Grand Slam over British sides in three years.

His team might have got their campaign off to a winning start against England on Saturday, but he was not happy with the style of that victory; and news that experienced hooker Keven Mealamu had been cited for an alleged head butt on England's Lewis Moody had hardly lifted his mood.

"I'm disappointed.We'll have to go through the process so I can't talk much about the incident except to say that we're disappointed," said Henry, when asked about the citing.

"He's been cited for striking the head. It surprises me. He's probably the cleanest player in the world isn't he? It was purely accidental as far as I know."

Henry said he had not yet seen footage of the incident, but when asked if he planned on vigorously defending his man he said: "We will. We'll go through the normal process. Whenever we've had a player cited in the past, which is very rare, we do our best to look at that situation and act positively."

Mealamu will face the minimum of a one-month ban if he is found guilty. The IRB-appointed judicial officer, Professor Lorne Crerar, will hear the case at a date and venue to be confirmed. Last night Henry said he anticipated the hearing being in Edinburgh tomorrow.

The outcome of the hearing is unlikely to have a direct effect on the starting line-up for Saturday's match, with Henry indicating that he had already decided to pick Andrew Hore at hooker for his first Test match since late November 2009. Hore is fit again after struggling with shoulder and Achilles problems throughout 2010.

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Henry has also had to contend with the loss of prop Ben Franks from the squad this weekend. The 26-year-old injured a muscle in his back during a stretching exercise at the team hotel on Friday night, and it was decided that Neemia Tialata should be flown out as a replacement yesterday morning.

In fairness to Henry, he did have the good grace to acknowledge that while this might not have been the most satisfying weekend of his life, many international coaches would give their right arm to be looking back at a victory over England with a feeling that there is plenty of scope for things to improve.

"We're delighted to have won on Saturday. It is always a big game at Twickenham, and it is always a difficult one, but we're not that pleased with the way we played," he said.

"We didn't complete some opportunities - I think we're pretty rusty and we lacked a bit of accuracy - but as I say we're happy with the win.

"We hadn't played for seven weeks before losing to Australia in Hong Kong last weekend, there's a few new guys in the group who haven't been involved before, so we're not playing as well as we did in the Tri Nations. But hopefully we'll improve this week, that's the idea."

The All Blacks will train at The Pleasance and Peffermill this week, and intend to name their team on Thursday.