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Preview: New Zealand v Scotland

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Sportal.co.nz     10 Nov 2012     Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Murrayfield, Edinburgh, Monday, November 12, 03:30 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 28 - New Zealand 26, Scotland 0, Draws 2.

LAST TIME: November 13, 2010 (Edinburgh) - New Zealand 49-3 Scotland.

WALKING WOUNDED: New Zealand were untroubled by injuries for the first game of the tour and even had the luxury of experimenting with various combinations. Scotland's injury ward was overwhelmed, with no less than 13 players unavailable for selection. Among them were centre Joe Ansbro, halfback Chris Cusiter, Euan Murray, Alastair Kellock and Richie Vernon. They did, however, receive a boost in the form of mammoth lock Richie Gray who passed a fitness test after recovering from an ankle injury.

FORM: Big Scots wing Tim Visser has been talking the talk about putting his bulk to effect against the All Blacks but getting the ball, and space to move in, will be his challenge and he would be wrong to under-estimate his marker this time around. Meanwhile captain Kelly Brown insisted his side was ready for a tough grind and would make the All Blacks 'fight for everything' on the field.

New Zealand was seeking a record-equalling 17th successive win, but instead had to settle for a draw in their most recent outing, against Australia in Brisbane, as they failed to score a try for the first time since August 2004, a run of 105 fixtures.

WHO'S HOT: On the whole, Scotland retained the core players which built good momentum on their Pacific Island tour, with five changes to the side that beat Samoa at Apia in June.

Key to their success is five-eighth Greig Laidlaw. A class act, Laidlaw showed his ability to seal the deal in clutch situations when his late penalty kick handed the Wallabies their second consecutive defeat to the Scots in June. Questions have been raised around his defence and he will be relieved by the absence of Ma'a Nonu at No.12. Still, the All Blacks are sure to send a barrage of lethal attackers down his channel.

Up front is where Scotland are most vulnerable. An injury crisis in the front row, along with Euan Murray's withdrawal due to religious reasons, will see starting loosehead Ryan Grant forced into the unfamiliar tighthead position when Geoff Cross begins to tire.

Thanks to the revelation of Aaron Smith at halfback, Piri Weepu has been confined to one solitary start in an All Blacks jersey this year - when the former was dropped for breaking team protocol. He will be hoping Murrayfield provides the stage for the career revival he so badly needs.

Coach Steve Hansen signalled that he was looking to the future when he selected the brand new centre pairing, of Highlanders Ben Smith and Tamati Ellison, which is set to impress after the duo showed an instinctive ability to wreak havoc in tandem during the ITM Cup.

Adam Thompson's future in New Zealand may be uncertain, but a rare start at blindside could change all that. The Otago pilferer has suffered from his 'utility' tag and fallen behind other specialists in the All Black loose trio, but a commanding performance should lift his name higher in the pecking order next time selections are made.

WE THINK:

Though the absence of Aaron Smith suggests a slower, more maneagable style of game from a defensive perspective, the core of the well-oiled All Blacks machine has been retained and should dominate in all facets of the game.

In 28 previous meetings over 107 years, Scotland's best results against the All Blacks have been two draws, in 1964 and 1983. But there is more than just history on the tourists' side; they did not achieve a 16-Test winning streak by chance and Scotland could be set to receive the ensuing backlash from the frustrating draw in Brisbane.

The last time the All Blacks tasted defeat on their November trip to Europe was England's Twickenham win in 2002, when Scots mentor Andy Robinson was assistant to Sir Clive Woodward. Whether Robinson will be involved in their next defeat looks highly unlikely.

All Blacks by 20.

TEAMS:

Scotland: 1.Ryan Grant, 2.Ross Ford, 3.Geoff Cross, 4.Richie Gray, 5.Jim Hamilton, 6.Alasdair Strokosch, 7.Ross Rennie, 8.Kelly Brown (captain), 9.Mike Blair, 10.Greig Laidlaw, 11.Tim Visser, 12.Matt Scott, 13.Nick de Luca, 14.Sean Lamont, 15.Stuart Hogg.

Reserves: 16.Scott Lawson, 17.Allan Jacobsen, 18.Kyle Traynor, 19.Alastair Kellock, 20.David Denton, 21, Henry Pyrgos, 22. Ruaridh Jackson, 23.Max Evans.

New Zealand: 1.Wyatt Crockett, 2.Andrew Hore, 3.Owen Franks, 4.Luke Romano, 5.Samuel Whitelock, 6.Adam Thompson, 7.Richie McCaw (captain), 8.Victor Vito, 9. Piri Weepu, 10. Daniel Carter, 11. Julia Savea, 12.Tamati Ellison, 13.Ben Smith, 14.Cory Jane, 15. Israel Dagg.

Reserves: 16. Dane Coles, 17. Tony Woodcock, 18. Ben Franks, 19. Ali Williams, 20. Sam Cane, 21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22. Beauden Barrett, 23. Ma'a Nonu.

REFEREE: Jerome Garces (France)