Sunday 25 February 2018

NZ-lite Scots to get look at how it should be done

Even without key men, New Zealand look a class apart,

Eddie Butler

In 107 years of fixtures, Scotland have twice drawn with New Zealand, lost 26 times and never won. In that time they have tried every pre-match approach, including, before the last encounter in 2010, a certain bullishness. The Scots declared they were well up for it, and lost 49-3.

Mindful of the consequences of being disrespectful to the world champions -- and we can no longer even politely tickle the All Blacks as World Cup chokers -- Scotland played this one so straight that they ran the risk of appearing overawed. Such diplomacy counted for nothing because from afar the New Zealand Herald, through their senior sports writer, Chris Rattue, smote the Scots: "They play a turgid, ineffective game that belongs in a cave because their players have few skills."

The Scots shook off their cloak of courtesy and cast out from their press conference George Berry, a video reporter for the paper. Berry, pointing out that he was not Rattue, who was at home in NZ, was allowed to attend but was told to deliver the message that Rattue's cause might be better served if he cared to get his arse from behind his desk.

My apologies for coming at this fixture via the rear end, but in all truth there is no orifice that offers the prospect of a Scotland win. It could be said that the Scots are on something of a roll, having put together three wins on their summer tour, including a victory over Australia, and that their back three -- Stuart Hogg at full-back, and Sean Lamont and Tim Visser on the wings -- form a genuine attacking threat. It could be said that Richie Gray's recovery from his ankle injury will have lifted the spirits and that the presence of the world-class second row will be a boost.

It could be said that Steve Hansen, the coach of the All Blacks, has kept to his word of giving everyone an outing in the opening games against Scotland and Italy and that, for example, the centre pairing of Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith, do not carry the threat of Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith. Not yet. It could be said that Scotland in the rain are a right handful and this is November in northern Europe. They may even be the second best team in the world at playing in the wet.

The trouble is that New Zealand are the No 1 team at playing under water. The best, for that matter, under lights, in tropical heat, or just in calm, dry conditions. This is a very special All Blacks team and we should enjoy them as such. That is where Rattue does not always help, as scorn poured on opponents may create an impression of only rubbish left in the All Blacks' wake. He calls himself a romantic but that requires a little love for the losers. Anyway, Scotland are not as good as New Zealand and that is the heart of it. Scotland are NZ Lite: Jocks styled on Kiwis. That is, on not being the most massive (Lamont and Visser excluded) but on having mobility and cohesion, especially in

the back row. In fact, with Kieran Read and Liam Messam not picked for the All Blacks, Scotland may have parity at 6, 7 and 8. Alasdair Strokosch, Ross Rennie and Kelly Brown will be a force at Murrayfield. But elsewhere the All Blacks are superior. Even at 11, 14 and 15. Cory Jane is the best wing in the world at dealing with the ball in the air. Israel Dagg is a gliding menace from fullback and second only to Dan Carter as a distributor, an attacker who sizes up options in an instant.

It is worth comparing the instincts of New Zealand within strike range of the line and Scotland. The All Blacks nail their chances; Scotland do not. The Scots claim to be more adventurous, but they are up against the master finishers. Scotland are not cavemen; just inferior versions of one of the best teams we have seen.


Scotland v New Zealand,

BBC 1, 2.30

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