'We have not given any thought to Scotland,' says Dan Carter
All Blacks fly-half claims world champions are more concerned with their own game
Saturday 10 November 2012
The setting was the basement suite of an Edinburgh hotel but it might have been a confessional booth somewhere in the Scottish capital. As the All Blacks announced their team to face Scotland at Murrayfield tomorrow in the opening match of their end-of-year European tour, Dan Carter had a confession to make.
Asked how he and his team-mates might avoid approaching the contest with complacency, given their history of putting Scotland comprehensively to the sword (by a record 49-3 on their last visit two years ago), New Zealand's fly-half pivot and points machine replied: "This game, it's more about us. We haven't looked at the opposition – Scotland – all that much this week. We're really wanting to focus on our performance.
"When you look at it like that, it kind of takes the opposition out of the equation. No matter who we're playing, we want to play well as a team and focus more on us – especially with it being the first game on tour. Also, our last performance wasn't our best of the year by any means."
Did that mean Carter had not looked at the Scotland half-back pairing he would be facing tomorrow? "Erm... I haven't actually," he confessed. "I haven't even seen the Scotland starting line-up. It's something I might have a little bit of a look at but I've got certain things that I want to get out of this game and it's more on a personal and team basis than looking too much at the opponents."
There will be those in Scotland who take it as another slight from the Land of the Long White Cloud. The hairs are still bristling in Caledonian parts at the assertion by a columnist in the New Zealand Herald that Scotland are "the cavemen" of world rugby. And Victor Vito, sitting alongside Carter yesterday, made have a similar admission. Asked what he knew about his opposite number (Scotland captain Kelly Brown) the flanker turned No 8 replied: "Not too much, to be honest."
The fact is that the All Blacks of 2012 have bigger things in mind than Scotland, who beat Australia, Fiji and Samoa in the summer but who were whitewashed in the Six Nations this year and who have never beaten New Zealand. They are looking at the standards they have set since squeaking home in the World Cup final on home soil a year ago.
As Carter mentioned, those standards slipped in their last match, against the Wallabies at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane three weeks ago. The world champions could only manage an 18-18 draw, stopping their winning run one short of equalling the world record of 17 matches.
In all probability, head coach Steve Hansen and the rest of the All Black backroom staff will be making sure that Carter, Vito and Co are fully aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition before the 2.30pm start tomorrow. In the week-long build-up to the opening match of their tour, though, the New Zealanders have been concentrating on putting right what went wrong in Brisbane rather than what Scotland might throw at them.
"Yeah, obviously we were pretty disappointed in our last performance," Carter said. "The tough thing is we've had to wait a few weeks for our next opportunity to play better but the team's excited. We realise this is a new challenge, playing over here in the UK."
As it happened, yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the All Blacks' last defeat in a tour match in Europe. True, they did lose to France in Cardiff in 2007 but that was a World Cup quarter-final. Their last defeat in an end-of-year tour in the northern hemi- sphere was a 31-28 loss to England at Twickenham on 9 November 2002, back in the days of Jonah Lomu and Andrew Mehrtens.
Each year, it seems, they have come to these shores and shown a widening gulf between their cutting-edge play and the relative Neanderthal nations in the north of the planet. Their winning run against global opposition may have come to a halt, but maintaining that dominance over the leading lights of the European game will be the obvious driving force for Hansen and his team as they tackle Scotland, Italy, Wales and France over the next four weekends.
"At the beginning of the year we set out the goal of challenging ourselves to play better than we had before," said Hansen, who stepped up to succeed Graham Henry in the wake of World Cup success. "Everyone was telling us we'd have a hangover after the World Cup and that made us probably more determined. The first meeting I had with [captain] Richie McCaw we discussed that, and ways of making sure it didn't happen. We've introduced nine new players this year, which is just about a third of the squad, and that brings excitement and enthusiasm."
As expected, Hansen and his fellow selectors have blended several recent recruits – Wyatt Crockett at loosehead prop, Luke Romano in the second row, Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith in the centres and Julian Savea on the left wing – into a starting XV featuring a solid spine of Andrew Hore at hooker, McCaw in the back row, Carter at fly-half and Israel Dagg at full-back. Hooker Dane Coles and scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow stand to make debuts off the bench.
Oh, and just so Dan knows: Mike Blair and Greig Laidlaw will be the half-back pairing in a Scotland side looking to overcome the odds and turn back the All-Black tide of history.
Back to black: New Zealand's run
* New Zealand's 18-18 draw against Australia last month prevented them from matching the record run of 17 Test victories, achieved by the All Blacks between 1965-69 and equalled by the Springboks of 1997-98.
They are still unbeaten in 17 Tests, stretching back to August 2011 and can equal the All Blacks of 1997 by going a calendar year unbeaten. They are also unbeaten in November Tests in Europe since 2002.
15 S Hogg, 14 S Lamont, 13 N De Luca, 12 M Scott, 11 T Visser, 10 G Laidlaw, 9 M Blair; 1 R Grant, 2 R Ford, 3 G Cross, 4 R Gray, 5 J Hamilton, 6 A Strokosch, 7 R Rennie, 8 K Brown (capt).
15 I V Dagg, 14 C Jane, 13 B Smith, 12 T Ellison, 11 J Savea, 10 D Carter, 9 P Weepu; 1 W Crockett, 2 A Hore, 3 O Franks, 4 L Romano, 5 S Whitelock, 6 A Thomson, 7 R McCaw (capt), 8 V Vito.
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