New names in Scottish squad to face All Blacks
HEAD coach Andy Robinson has told his Scotland players they have "everything to gain" from facing world champions New Zealand at Murrayfield next month.
Robinson today named a 34-man squad featuring seven new caps for next week's training camp in St Andrews and the November 11 Test with the All Blacks, a side Scotland have never beaten.
“We've got to be clear that we have everything to gain from this game,” Robinson told Press Association Sport.
“It's a great opportunity for players to really test themselves and for us to be clear on where we are.
“For us it's about having a belief about what we're trying to do, the roles and everybody being clear in their roles going into the game, understanding how we can put New Zealand under pressure and putting in an 80-minute performance.”
Two years ago, the last time Scotland and New Zealand met, wins in Ireland and Argentina had heightened hopes only for the All Blacks to inflict a 49-3 defeat.
With Scotland in a similar position, having beaten Australia, Fiji and Samoa in June, Robinson knows lessons must be learned from that day, when possession was turned over and the hosts were ruthlessly punished.
The mood is now not quite as positive after a miserable 2011-12 campaign.
Elimination from the Rugby World Cup at the group stage for the first time was followed by a RBS 6 Nations whitewash and wooden spoon before a seven-match winless run, Scotland's worst run of results since 1998, was ended in Australia.
Alex Grove, Tom Brown, Richie Vernon and Robert Harley were part of the summer tour party but missed out on selection this time around, while 13 players, including scrum-half Chris Cusiter (shoulder) and Joe Ansbro (broken neck), were not considered due to injury.
Euan Murray was also not named, but the devout Christian could return when the squad is reconsidered for the Saturday Tests with South Africa and Tonga.
Kelly Brown, Rory Lawson, Jim Hamilton, Kyle Traynor and Ruaridh Jackson return after being absent for the tour, while the seven uncapped players included are Stuart McInally, Grant Gilchrist, Alex Dunbar, Peter Horne, Peter Murchie, Tommy Seymour and Henry Pyrgos.
Saracens back-rower Kelly Brown was in line to captain Scotland during the Six Nations last season but suffered a fractured ankle, with Edinburgh hooker Ross Ford taking the reins.
An announcement on the captaincy will be made next week and, while praising Ford, who lost his first five games as skipper, Robinson also talked up the credentials of Brown.
“I think he (Ford) has done very well as a leader and captaining the team,” Robinson said.
“He's a quality player and a quality person and I'm delighted to see the way that he captained the side.
“We've got Kelly coming into the squad, which is great. I have real belief in what he's about as a leader.
“When you look at Al Kellock, Jim Hamilton, both captaining their teams, Greig Laidlaw captaining Edinburgh, two scrum-halves that have both captained Scotland... we've got experience there now, with the leadership.
“That was important, to have the leaders spread across the team.”
Robinson was keen to focus on the positives, but there are numerous issues still to address.
He is happy with scrum-halves Mike Blair and Lawson, despite the duo playing outside the top tier at Brive and Newcastle Falcons respectively.
The head coach expects Sale Sharks second-rower Richie Gray, Edinburgh fly-half Greig Laidlaw and Edinburgh wing Tim Visser to be fit for selection.
And the form of Scotland's pro teams, both without a win in the Heineken Cup this season, is not too big a concern for Robinson, who has named 13 players from Glasgow Warriors and 12 from Edinburgh, the remaining nine exiles.
Wasps captain Hugo Southwell has again been overlooked in favour of Stuart Hogg and Murchie, both of Glasgow.
Harley, Johnnie Beattie and others are victims of the strength in depth in the back row.
“We've got some outstanding talent in the back row,” Robinson said. “I've just selected six players, but I could have selected five or six on top of that who I think would perform very well for Scotland.”
The options at prop are more of a concern, with Geoff Cross the only specialist tighthead and two to be named among the replacements.
Only four are in the 34, meaning Traynor, who left Edinburgh for Bristol in the summer and won three caps as a replacement in 2009, will likely find himself on the replacements' bench at least to face the All Blacks.