Greatest battle for Hastings

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The Independent Online
TIM GLOVER

reports from Pretoria

In terms of public relations, the home nations could take a leaf out of New Zealand's book. Wherever they lay their hat in South Africa they lay it in front of a giant photograph of the 1905 Invincibles and the message is obvious. In front of this impressive image sit the high-profile management team - two of the country's greatest forwards, Colin Meads and Brian Lochore.

"We've got one hell of a battle on our hands," Lochore said. "There's a real awareness that we haven't got a second chance." The danger tomorrow for Scotland, who have never beaten New Zealand, is that they are still reflecting on the injury-time defeat against France last Saturday.

Had they won, they would be playing Ireland in the quarter-finals instead of New Zealand. As it is, their chances of reaching the semi-finals are slight. Under the captaincy of Gavin Hastings - if they lose, this will be his last international appearance - Scotland have established a tightly knit team of character and nous.

As a unit the back row of Iain Morrison, Eric Peters and Rob Wainwright exemplifies the spirit of a team who have been cobbled together from north and south of the border. Scotland have been impressive here but they were completely shattered by the experience against France.

Hastings, who has scored 89 points in three games, tried to be positive in the immediate aftermath but admitted: "I still can't believe we've lost that game. France beat the All Blacks last year. We will have to play the game of our lives."

New Zealand have been even more impressive here but Scotland can take some comfort from two developments this week. One is that the All Blacks lost the toss and will be playing in white (the Haka does not look quite so menacing) and the other is the loss of the brilliant full-back Glen Osborne, who has an ankle injury.

Jeff Wilson, who took a pasting on the right wing against Ireland, moves to full-back and Osborne's absence enables the All Blacks to play the crowd-puller Jonah Lomu and Marc Ellis, who scored six tries against Japan, on the wings.

"It doesn't upset our plans at all," Laurie Mains, the coach, said. "It doesn't change anything. Wilson prefers to play full-back. There is no shortage of attacking skill and he's good under the high ball."

However good Wilson is, this is not a change that the All Blacks would have wanted to make. "I've always maintained that if we are to win the World Cup it will be on the backs of the younger players in the squad," Lochore said. Osborne is one of the men he had in mind.

"Scotland are very strong in several areas," Mains said, "and we'd be somewhat naive if we didn't consider that. I won't comment any further."

When Lochore referred to the younger players he was also talking about Lomu, the open-side flanker, Josh Kronfeld, and the stand-off Andrew Mehrtens. All three have already left their mark, but Mehrtens has yet to face a back row of Scotland's pace and ingenuity. "We all know we have to step up our game," Kronfeld said. "Scotland are going to be a problem all right. They've got to be treated with respect."

The All Blacks, who conceded three tries against Ireland, were most concerned about their defence. Noel Murphy, the Ireland manager, thought that they were not as awesome as previous New Zealand teams. The All Blacks can be relied upon to move up a gear. Whether Scotland can do the same is doubtful. "I think we can compete with them up front," Peter Wright, the Boroughmuir prop, said, "and from that basis anything can happen."

The most revealing statement was probably made by the All Blacks' captain, Sean Fitzpatrick. "The party," he said, "is just beginning."

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