Autumn Nations Series preview: Scotland’s barren run against New Zealand to continue

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

New Zealand have made plenty of unwanted history during Ian Foster’s tenure and they will hope to avoid having another painful experience under the head coach this weekend.

It has been a time of firsts for the All Blacks with defeats to Ireland and Argentina very much in the back of their minds, and Scotland will be looking to copy what those two achieved when they face off with the three-time world champions at Murrayfield.

Prior to the second part of Rugby Championship, that wouldn’t have been such a far-fetched idea, given the talent the Scots currently possess and New Zealand’s struggles this year, but form is a funny thing.

With the Kiwis recovering to win the southern hemisphere tournament and then producing a superb display against Wales last weekend, they are all of a sudden looking a fearsome prospect once again.

Scotland, meanwhile, are having a few challenges. The constant speculation – all of their own making, it has to be said – surrounding star playmaker Finn Russell has not helped, and their poor performance against Fiji did not quell the talk.

There is the talent to cause the All Blacks significant problems – it is a better squad of players which went so close to upsetting Steve Hansen’s team in 2017 – but the Six Nations side have not played well enough in 2022.

Gregor Townsend will hope that New Zealand continues the theme of alternating between outstanding and abject, a pattern which began at the start of the Rugby Championship.

Foster’s men have not backed up a good display with another one in the following match so, after dominating the Welsh in Cardiff last weekend, does that give the Scots a chance?

Where the game will be won

Wales quite simply failed to deal with the All Blacks’ big carriers on the gain line and that will be the hosts’ main priority this weekend. Scotland do have a pack which is currently more physical at close quarters while they have a plethora of breakdown threats, but they need to set the tone early on. The Welsh were timid and let New Zealand open up too big a lead to claw back, so the Scots have to be in their opponents’ faces early on and not succumb to the inferiority complex which plagues Wales when they take on the three-time world champions.

The next task for the Scots will be to find a way of getting themselves on the front foot via their carrying game. They lack the sheer size up front of some other tier one countries to do the hard yards, but they partially make up for that with some heavy duty backs. New Zealand’s defence wasn’t impregnable in Cardiff but they did create turnovers from which to attack from, so the hosts will have to be clinical with the ball.

Equally, the All Blacks were impressive last week but we don’t think being as direct at Murrayfield will work as well against this Scotland side – if the intensity and attitude is right from the home team. New Zealand will have to provide a bit more variety, which their selection suggests they will do, otherwise Hamish Watson and co. will enjoy the breakdown exchanges.

Last time they met

What they said

Scotland centre Chris Harris says that it would be “insane” if they manage to overcome the All Blacks at Murrayfield on Sunday.

“I’m really excited to play against the All Blacks,” Harris said.

“It’s a Test everyone’s looking forward to. We’ll throw the kitchen sink at it, give it a good crack and see where we are.

“It’s an opportunity to test our defence against one of the best attacks and to test our attack against a decent defence. It’s an exciting opportunity to test ourselves against New Zealand.

“It would be insane if we could win. It would be a historic win. That is the opportunity for us. We’re looking forward to getting out there.”

All Blacks head coach Foster insists that they will alter their style for the game against the Scots.

New Zealand were incredibly direct against Wales but they may well look to spread the ball wider on Sunday.

“We can’t use (last) week’s formula for (this) week. We’ve got to rebuild from zero, then hone into it and find a real meaning in the preparation,” he said.

“It’s about (understanding) the build-up for each Test is different – different conditions, different opposition and different pressure points.

“Sometimes we judge great performances by scorelines, but also great performances can come just by solving problems on the park and that’s what I think we’re getting a little bit better at.”

Players to watch

Scotland need to find ways of getting over the gain line and, as they lack carriers up front, Townsend has beefed up the backline. Duhan van der Merwe already resides there and is an obvious threat – providing he gets the ball – but the head coach has brought in Sione Tuipulotu for Cam Redpath to help share the load with Van der Merwe. He is physical and abrasive and will look to provide his team with front foot ball.

Up front, Hamish Watson will also take on that responsibility while Matt Fagerson has improved considerably in that department over the past couple of years. He might not be the biggest eight or as dynamic as someone like Ardie Savea but he always carries well and, more often than not, will lay a good platform for his half-backs.

The set-piece, and particularly the lineout, is another crucial area for the Scots. It has had a tendency to break down, especially in the bigger matches, and with a new hooker starting this match, it will be a concern. Front-rower Fraser Brown is an experienced player having earned over 50 caps, but he has been out of favour over the past couple of years. Although club mate Richie Gray is at lock – alongside vice captain Grant Gilchrist – it is a very different game at international level and Brown needs to be up to speed immediately.

For New Zealand, there are changes aplenty and it suggests they are looking to get their wider players more involved. Despite an excellent performance against Wales, the back three were very quiet, with the ball rarely shifting past Jordie Barrett, who had a fine game trucking the ball up the middle. David Havili comes into that 12 position – as the youngest Barrett shifts to full-back – and he is more of a creative influence in the midfield. Jordie has a fine passing game but Havili perhaps has a better understanding of how to break down defences with his distribution and decision-making, or at least that is the thought process of coaches.

He features alongside another fine playmaker in the shape of Anton Lienert-Brown, who is very different to the sheer speed of Rieko Ioane. Again, it is another indicator as to how the All Blacks are going to approach this match and, if so, it will very much benefit Mark Telea. The Blues flyer has been in outstanding form over the past couple of years and deserves his shot in the team. Telea is a superb athlete, as all New Zealand wings are, but he also has the rugby smarts and a good all-round skill set.

Up front, there are fewer alterations but it is another big game for Akira Ioane. With Shannon Frizell performing well over the past few weeks and making a good case to be the first choice blindside going forward, Ioane needs to step up. He is probably the most frustrating player to don the black shirt over recent years, given his immense talent. The 27-year-old should be dominating at the highest level but it has never truly worked out for him in Test rugby. However, he has another shot this weekend and the New Zealand public will be watching with interest.

Main head-to-head

From fourth to first choice in the space of a week, it is never dull when Finn Russell is around. The decision to omit him from the initial squad was bizarre in the first place and his sudden renaissance, in the eyes of the head coach at least, is fascinating. Irrespective of what’s gone on between Townsend and Russell, the fly-half is still their best player and perhaps Scotland’s boss has finally realised that ahead of their game with New Zealand.

Russell’s battle with Beauden Barrett, who takes over from the impressive Richie Mo’unga at 10, will go some way to deciding the outcome on Sunday. Both are superb playmakers, with the Scotsman the slightly more creative and the Kiwi the better runner, but it will all be about game control. Barrett has, to a degree, struggled in that aspect over the last few years, hence the reason for Mo’unga’s rise, while Russell has the ability to dominate the game.

It therefore gives the edge to the hosts’ fly-half but, equally, he does have a tendency to do the ridiculous, rather than the sublime, especially under pressure, and it is something the visitors will look to play on. If the All Blacks can starve Scotland of ball in the right areas, that may force Russell to overplay and result in a number of errors from which Foster’s men can profit.

Prediction

The All Blacks selection surprised us as we weren’t expecting that many alterations. It is still a very strong squad but, given their inability to back up performances recently, it may well be a tighter encounter than expected. They should still emerge victorious but Scotland do have a shot. In fact, if Townsend’s men play well, they could well cause an upset, but the simple fact is that they haven’t been at the required standard for most of 2022. New Zealand by 10 points.

Previous results

2017: New Zealand won 22-17 in Edinburgh
2014: New Zealand won 24-16 in Edinburgh
2012: New Zealand won 51-22 in Edinburgh
2010: New Zealand won 49-3 in Edinburgh
2008: New Zealand won 32-6 in Edinburgh
2007: New Zealand won 40-0 in Edinburgh
2005: New Zealand won 29-10 in Edinburgh
2001: New Zealand won 37-6 in Edinburgh
2000: New Zealand won 48-14 in Auckland

The teams

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie (c), 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Ewan Ashman, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 WP Nel, 19 Jonny Gray, 20 Jack Dempsey, 21 Ben White, 22 Blair Kinghorn, 23 Mark Bennett

New Zealand: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 David Havili, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Dalton Papali’i, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock (c), 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Ethan de Groot
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 George Bower, 18 Fletcher Newell, 19 Tupou Vaa’i, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Stephen Perofeta, 23 Rieko Ioane

Date: Sunday, November 13
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 14:15 GMT
Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Chris Busby (Ireland)
TMO: Tom Foley (England)

READ MORE: Autumn Nations Series preview: Springboks to end France’s win-streak in Marseille

The article Autumn Nations Series preview: Scotland’s barren run against New Zealand to continue appeared first on Planetrugby.com.