Rugby Union: All Blacks in mood to cast about freely: Tourists take to Scotland

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The Independent Online
THE All Blacks are now on the kilt and haggis side of Hadrian's Wall, preparing for the first of four games north of the border against South of Scotland in Galashiels this afternoon, and their new smiling image is already proving easier to maintain than it was in England.

For one thing, it is decidedly harder to be struck down by homesickness here. A quarter of this squad play their rugby in Dunedin, which is so Scottish it has a statue of Robbie Burns in the main street, and they have spent the last two days in Peebles, which is the sort of place that makes venues like Redruth and Gateshead resemble Sodom and Gomorrah. Quiet, restful, typically New Zealand in fact - and after yesterday morning's training session, the players unwound with a spot of fly fishing on the Tweed.

There are also reasons connected to the business in hand to account for the All Blacks' current state of contentment. Firstly, of the 13 matches they have lost in the British Isles (205 won) not one of those defeats has been in Scotland, and secondly, they regard the Scots - in rugby terms - as far closer kindred spirits than the negative, boring old Sassenachs.

Since their high-class performance in the opening match, the All Blacks have been as entertaining as a wet Sunday in Invercargill, but only, they say, because the English, with their accent on static, set-piece rugby, would fill most of the positions in a World Boring XV.

'We have been somewhat surprised and partly disappointed by the approach in England,' Laurie Mains, the tourists' coach, said yesterday. 'We have seen some very good rugby players down there who are effectively not getting very much rugby to play.' In other words, English wings should be charged admission money, along with the other spectators.

The Scots, on the other hand, were much more in tune with the southern hemisphere style of play, Mains suggested. This is based on quick second-phase possession and the principle that if you are allowed to pick 15 players, then you might as well encourage all of them to get their shorts muddy.

'Ever since the Scots converted to a rucking game we have looked forward to playing them,' Mains said. 'In general terms, Scottish sides are better balanced than the English and we are expecting the opposition to run the ball at us a good deal more on this leg of the trip.'

The All Blacks, of course, would enjoy nothing more than the Scots attempting to beat them at their own game, hence the oratory, and the South would be inviting a hiding this afternoon were they daft enough to run anything other than fast, quality ball back at a defence that has not been breached in their last four matches.

Even so, they traditionally play their rugby with great passion in the Borders (living so close to England probably makes them extra aggressive) and the tourists' midweek side (the probable Test team will be on view against Scotland A in Glasgow on Saturday) might have to raise its game a notch for New Zealand to negotiate today's game with any degree of comfort.

SOUTH OF SCOTLAND: M Dods (Gala); A Stanger (Hawick), S Nichol (Selkirk), G Shiel, G Parker; C Chalmers, B Redpath (Melrose); G Isaac (Gala), J Hay (Hawick), H Hunter (Gala), R Brown (capt), G Weir (Melrose), D Turnbull (Hawick), C Hogg (Melrose), J Amos (Gala). Replacements: G Oliver, S McColm (Hawick), D Hunter (Selkirk), S Brotherston (Melrose), B Renwick (Hawick).

NEW ZEALAND: S Howarth; E Clarke (Auckland), M Berry (Wellington), L Stensness (Auckland), E Rush (North Harbour); S Bachop (Otago), J Preston (Wellington); M Ellis (Taranaki), N Hewitt (Hawke's Bay), G Purvis, S Gordon (Waikato), R Fromont (Auckland), B Larsen (North Harbour), J Mitchell (Waikato), Z Brooke (Auckland, capt). Replacements: V Tuigamala (Auckland), M Ellis, S Forster (Otago), L Barry (North Harbour), C Dowd, S Fitzpatrick (Auckland).

Referee: D Matthews (England).

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