Rugby Union: Brooke no argument as Blacks think big: Tourists select purely on form for Scots Test

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The Independent Online
EVEN Laurie Mains, the coach himself, admits that the New Zealand team he unveiled yesterday for tomorrow's Test against Scotland is way off his own expectations when the tourists embarked from home.

Seven changes from the side who played Western Samoa in July, and six from the Lions' conquerors in the Third Test three weeks earlier, are not quite as radical as they seem. But even so four new caps and the biggest one-match turnover of players in living memory are pretty drastic. There are only four survivors - Timu, Tuigamala, Fitzpatrick and Ian Jones - of the All Black side who opened the World Cup against England two short years ago.

'Had I selected a Test team when we left New Zealand, I wouldn't have been all that accurate myself,' Mains conceded yesterday after his players had completed their final training session at the Heriot Watt University ground. 'It's been based purely on form.'

On this laudable criterion, Marc Ellis and Stu Forster have come through on tour to win the half- back places that were expected to go to Stephen Bachop and Jon Preston. Jeff Wilson, already a New Zealand cricketer, becomes a dual international with his selection on the wing, and the lock Steve Gordon finally earns a reward for endurance with his first cap on his fifth All Blacks tour.

Once injury, non-availability and selectorial decision had respectively put Michael Jones, Grant Fox and John Kirwan out of the tour, it was always certain that there would be more change than is normal in a New Zealand side. For all that, there are some considerable surprises. Bachop, for instance, is the only specialist outside-half in the party but has still lost out to Ellis.

Likewise at open-side flanker, where Paul Henderson was Jones's replacement but has given way to Zinzan Brooke, whose experience is principally as a No 8 and occasional blind-side. Here is another example, akin to Scotland's selection of the 6ft 5in Rob Wainwright in the same position, of size's growing importance in the modern international game.

It is also a tribute to Brooke's response to being dropped during the Lions series and beginning this tour in the unwontedly humble role of midweek captain. 'Once he gets on tour and into a competitive environment, it brings out the best in him,' Mains said. 'He was playing with such form that he had to be put into the team somewhere.'

Brooke now intends having a long-distance chat with the unfortunate Michael Jones before the Murrayfield match, if only to reassure himself. 'The good thing is that I still have the enthusiasm and I'm actually hungry to get into it,' he said yesterday.

'Laurie gave me the responsibility to go out and do a job and I was looking to play as many games as possible before the Tests to give myself the best chance possible.' Which, thanks to his extreme versatility, is precisely how it has worked out, though tomorrow's Test will be diametrically different from the 84-point gadabout at Gala when he was at his beguiling best.

NEW ZEALAND (v Scotland, Murrayfield, tomorrow): J Timu; J Wilson (Otago), F Bunce (North Harbour), M Cooper (Waikato), V Tuigamala (Auckland); M Ellis, S Forster (Otago); C Dowd, S Fitzpatrick (capt), O Brown (Auckland), S Gordon (Waikato), I Jones (North Auckland), J Joseph, A Pene (Otago), Z Brooke (Auckland). Replacements: E Clarke (Auckland), J Preston (Wellington), M Allen (Taranaki), N Hewitt (Hawke's Bay), B Larsen (North Harbour), P Henderson (Southland).