Scotland have been this way once before. Back in the winter of 1924-25 they did not much fancy playing New Zealand, the second touring All Blacks. The solution they came up with? They simply did not play them – thus becoming the only home nation to avoid defeat against the All Black side that became known as the "Invincibles".
Not that a plan of such Baldrickian cunning was ever going to be an option for Frank Hadden in the here and now of the 2007 World Cup. With Murrayfield booked for the day and on course for a sell-out, Scotland's head coach was always going to have to put out 15 players to fulfil the Pool C fixture against the possible new age invincibles from New Zealand. Still, the team sheet might as well have been printed on a white flag and hoisted up one of the poles on the stadium roof.
It included 13 changes in personnel plus two in position from the first-choice XV who beat Romania 42-0 on Tuesday, and who seem certain to be reselected for the game that will hold the key to Scotland's qualification fate: against Italy in St-Etienne a week tonight. There is a complete overhaul of the pack, which includes two debutants in the Gloucester loose-head prop Alasdair Dickinson and the Glasgow openside flanker John Barclay. Only two of the XV are likely to start against Italy: Chris Paterson – on the wing rather than at outside-half, the position he fills tomorrow – and Simon Webster or Andy Henderson, who appear to be vying for one centre slot.
Hadden revealed that he had consulted former Scotland players and ex-Scotland coach Ian McGeechan, but he said that his decision to name a second XV was ultimately "not a difficult one". Back in 1924-25, Scotland's refusal to play the All Blacks was prompted by a dispute about players' expenses and gate money; this time, their refusal to field a first XV is about a priceless World Cup quarter-final place.
Hadden's overriding priority was always going to be the need to have his pivotal players fully rested and firing on all cylinders for their Italian job in St-Etienne, when the second qualifying spot from Pool C will be on the line. Top spot was never a realistic target, given that Scotland have never beaten the All Blacks even with their strongest XVs of all time.
"I got a letter from a guy in London who wanted reassurance that it was going to be worth his while coming up," Hadden said, addressing the question of punters having paid up to £164 for tickets. "I explained that I had spent over £400 myself – I've got two friends coming over from Australia – and I would not be bringing them over under false pretences. The Scottish team that will take the park on Sunday will undoubtedly do their country proud."
Scotland: H Southwell (Edinburgh); N Walker (Ospreys), M Di Rollo (Toulouse), A Henderson (Glasgow), S Webster (Edinburgh); C Paterson (Gloucester), C Cusiter (Perpignan); A Dickinson (Gloucester), S Lawson (Sale), C Smith (Edinburgh), S MacLeod (Llanelli), S Murray (Montauban, capt), K Brown (Glasgow), J Barclay (Glasgow), D Callam (Edinburgh). Replacements: F Thomson (Glasgow), G Kerr (Edinburgh), J Hamilton (Leicester), A Hogg (Edinburgh), R Lawson (Gloucester), D Parks (Glasgow), R Dewey (Ulster).
New Zealand: L MacDonald; D Howlett, C Smith, L McAlister, S Sivivatu; D Carter, B Kelleher; T Woodcock, A Oliver, C Hayman, R Thorne, A Williams, C Masoe, R McCaw (capt), S So'oialo. Replacements: A Hore, N Tialata, C Jack, S Lauaki, B Leonard, N Evans, I Toeava.
Referee: M Jonker (South Africa).Reuse content