Despite a disruptive week’s build-up, the All Blacks will have the class and quality to claim a comprehensive win over Scotland in Edinburgh on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
The All Blacks delayed their team announcement as they reassessed the squad following a ferocious midweek clash against a French XV in Lyon, while there was also a late charter flight up to Edinburgh and a couple of injury concerns over key players.
For one, the All Blacks have been sweating over the fitness of captain Kieran Read, who picked up a minor groin strain against France last weekend, but he has ultimately recovered in time to take up his place at No 8.
That clash in Paris saw the All Blacks power into a 31-5 lead before losing their way somewhat in the second half, with the 38-18 final scoreline certainly not serving as a fair reflection of just how competitive France were during the latter stages of the Test.
That’s rather been the story of the All Blacks’ 2017 season, with the world champs performing in fits and bursts, while generally still coming away with a favourable result.
When the All Blacks do finally click into top gear for the full 80 minutes, it’s bound to get messy for their opposition, and that’s exactly what they will be continuing to search for at Murrayfield.
The All Blacks pack – despite the absence of the injured Dane Coles – should still be far too strong for their Scottish counterparts, while the axis of Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett and Sonny Bill Williams are likely to wreak havoc.
Scotland produced an inconsistent showing against Samoa last weekend, and while they might prove to be competitive early on, a determined All Blacks side is likely to ultimately run up a big score.
Scotland – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Lee Jones, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 John Barclay (c), 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Ben Toolis, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Darryl Marfo.
Subs: 16 George Turner, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Grant Gilchrist, 20 Luke Hamilton, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Byron McGuigan.
All Blacks – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Kane Hames.
Subs: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Liam Squire, 20 Matt Todd, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images