Austin Healey might be tripping the light fantastic these days, getting his moves right on the ballroom floor, but perhaps the "Leicester Lip" got it wrong about the man who coached him on the British Lions tour to Australia back in 2001. It was Healey who christened Graham Henry "Ming the Merciless," though in Edinburgh yesterday the man at the head of the New Zealand rugby union dynasty was in positively merciful mood, giving his hosts a whiff of hope for Saturday's Test at Murrayfield by selecting a shadow XV to face Scotland and also resisting the temptation to dig his claws into the All Blacks' bête noire.
It just so happens that Wayne Barnes will be the referee for the New Zealanders' first match back on British soil since the night his contentious sending to the sin bin of Luke McAlister and his failure to call a forward pass in the move that yielded Yannick Jauzion's crucial try contributed to the downfall of Henry's favourites in their World Cup quarter-final against France in Cardiff 13 months ago. The Gloucestershire official was the subject of supposed "death threats" on the internet and was criticised in an independent review conducted in New Zealand about the country's abrupt demise in the knockout phase of the competition.
Barnes has been back on All Black duty on the international circuit – he was a touch judge in their Tri-Nations fixture against South Africa in August – but Saturday's match will be his first fully fledged refereeing engagement involving New Zealand since the World Cup furore of October 2007. Asked whether he had been analysing Barnes' performances in the interim, Henry replied: "I've seen him referee a couple of matches, so the answer is yes. I saw him after the Cape Town Test. We exchanged pleasantries."
The latter remark was accompanied by a twinkle of the eye and there were also one or two eyebrows raised when Henry unveiled a starting XV featuring 13 changes to that which launched New Zealand's six-match autumn tour with a 19-14 victory against Australia in Hong Kong last weekend. There are debuts for prop Jamie Mackintosh and loose forwards Kieran Read and Liam Messam. Hooker Keven Mealamu assumes the captain's mantle, with Richie McCaw named among the replacements, alongside Dan Carter.
All of which left could add up to the glint of an opportunity for the Scots, who have never beaten the All Blacks and whose line-up for the potentially historic meeting featured a surprise recall on the blindside flank for Jason White. The former Scotland captain has been struggling to tie down a starting berth for Sale this season following summer shoulder and knee surgery and had to talk his way into contention for the national side after head coach Frank Hadden confessed to having reservations about selecting him for a 30-man training camp in La Manga last week.
"I just had to say that I disagreed," White said. "I put my case forward that I believed what I brought as a player merited inclusion." Thankfully for White, Hadden took him to Spain, where the Scottish Lion grafted his way back into the number six shirt.Reuse content