Mealamu let off lightly as Scots braced for All Blacks' big hitters

So those darned All Blacks are still to register a loss on Caledonian soil.

When it came to the crunch at the International Rugby Board's independent appeal committee hearing in Edinburgh yesterday, the New Zealanders managed to avoid defeat in contesting the four-week ban given to their hooker Keven Mealamu for launching himself headlong into the cranium of the England captain Lewis Moody at Twickenham last Saturday.

They succeeded in persuading the committee, chaired by Peter Ingwersen of South Africa, that the collision "was not intentional" – and in halving the period of punishment to two weeks to leave Mealamu free to play in the final match of New Zealand's tour, against Wales in Cardiff on 28 November.

It was quite some success, even by the exceptional standards of the All Blacks, who line up at Murrayfield this evening defending an unbeaten record against Scotland in a history of Test matches stretching back 105 years. The Springbok second-row, Bakkies Botha, was given a nine-week ban for a headbutt on the New Zealand scrum-half Jimmy Cowan in the Tri-Nations contest in Auckland in July. Mealamu has escaped with a two-week rap on the knuckles because the three-man committee accepted the strenuous assertion of Steve Hansen, the All Blacks' assistant coach, that it was "not in the nature" of the veteran hooker to do what the television footage showed him actually doing, and that "he hasn't got a dirty bone in his body."

The appeal committee's statement read: "Having had the opportunity to review the video footage, [we] concluded that the act was not intentional and that it merited a lower-end entry point in the IRB list of sanctions, namely four weeks. In view of the compelling mitigating factors and the absence of aggravating factors, this was reduced to two weeks."

This evening Hika Elliot will take the place of the 82-cap Auckland Blue hooker in an All Blacks starting line-up that looks significantly stronger than is usually fielded in Scotland, boasting the likes of Richie McCaw, their captain fantastic of an openside flanker, and Dan Carter, their orchestrator-in-chief.

Carter and McCaw – who, along with full-back Mils Muliana, is level with Sean Fitzpatrick's national cap record of 92 – were both on the bench when New Zealand were last in town. They still emerged convincing 32-6 winners, but Scotland's stock under Andy Robinson has risen too high for Graham Henry to risk a shadow XV. In their last four Tests, the Scots have drawn at home to England, beaten Ireland at Croke Park and won twice away to Argentina.

"It's important that we keep the scoreboard ticking," Robinson said. In their last four meetings with New Zealand, Scotland have only managed to tick over 22 points in total. They will need at least that tonight to have any hope of a historic victory.


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