Umaga desperate to clinch Blackwash as Scotland pin hopes on white-out

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The Independent Online

If those distinctive lines under the eyes of Tana Umaga appeared to be etched a little deeper than usual yesterday, there was good reason for it. "I'm not sleeping well," the dreadlocked centre of excellence confessed, looking bleary at breakfast-time. "It must be the snow."

Given his country's unblemished record on the northern side of Hadrian's rock-solid defensive wall, it was perhaps understandable that the prospect of a white-out from the heavens, rather than from the team due to be wearing all-white change strips at Murrayfield this afternoon, should be the cause of any overnight restlessness suffered by the New Zealand captain.

If nothing else, Umaga and his fellow All Blacks might not be able to see the Caledonian All Whites coming at them through the kind of Arctic blizzard that blanketed Edinburgh yesterday morning. Failing that, it is difficult to see anything other than a completion of a Grand Slam blackwash in the west end of the Scottish capital this afternoon.

"I've never played in snow before," Umaga mused, before mooting the possibility of himself and his colleagues wearing gloves for the occasion - and perhaps tights, too. "The front-rowers were talking about it on the bus yesterday," he claimed, with the leggings specifically in mind and the hint of twinkle in his eye. "They know how much of a good look it will be."

It would not be the first time a hooker had paraded in tights in Edinburgh, although it remains to be seen whether Anton Oliver will go for the Rudolf Nureyev look on the day when he will be attempting to emulate his father, Frank, a member of New Zealand's only other Grand Slam side 27 years ago.

Considering Scotland's less than distinguished record against New Zealand, it is unlikely that Oliver or his props will be getting their knickers, if not their tights, in anything like a twist.

In 100 years of trying, and not a lot of try-scoring, the Scots have yet to take the prized All Black scalp. They did hold the would-be Grand Slammers of 1964 to a 0-0 draw, though, and shared 50 points with the New Zealand tourists of 1983. They also came mightily close to thwarting Graham Mourie's Grand Slam side in 1978. A late Ian McGeechan drop at goal would have levelled the scores at 12-12, had the kick not been charged down by Doug Bruce (uncle of Angus MacDonald, New Zealand's chosen blind-side flanker today) and Bruce Robertson hacked the ball down field to score - "The most dramatic break-out I have ever seen in international rugby," was how it was described by Bill McLaren.

In more recent times, the All Blacks have threatened to run up cricket scores against Scotland, although it would be unkind to link that to the choice of Hugo Southwell, who started his sporting life as an all-rounder with Sussex CCC, as the last line of the home defence.

The Edinburgh Gunner happens to be a fine swashbuckling full-back, and part of a back three identified as a collective Scottish strong-point by Graham Henry yesterday. As All Black coach, Henry has already guided his own players to a 3-0 series walkover against the British Lions and to the Tri-Nations trophy in 2005. He has reason, though, not to take a grand Murrayfield finale for granted. In his two visits to Scotland with Wales, he was on the suffering end of John Leslie's try after just 10 and a half seconds - which led to a 33-20 defeat in 1999 - and of a 28-28 draw after his puffing dragon had led 25-6 in 2001.

The grandest prize of all, of course, is still two years down the line, and with 2007 and the World Cup in mind, Henry has chosen to blood Isaia Toeava at full-back this afternoon. A native Samoan, the 19-year-old has been described as a cross between Christian Cullen and Waisle Serevi.

"He's such a smooth runner," the 32-year-old Umaga enthused about the new boy, after deftly sidestepping talk of bringing his own international career to an imminent close. "He just glides up from nowhere and he's there. He's really quick."

The last two teenage All Blacks were not slow off the mark either - they went by the names of Joe Rokocoko and Jonah Lomu.

Today's Murrayfield teams


15 H Southwell (Edinburgh)

14 C Paterson (Edinburgh)

13 M Di Rollo (Edinburgh) 12 A Henderson (Glasgow)

11 S Lamont (Northampton)

10 D Parks (Glasgow)

9 C Cusiter (Borders)

1 G Kerr (Leeds)

2 S Lawson (Glasgow)

3 B Douglas (Bath)

4 C Hamilton (Glasgow)

5 S Murray (Edinburgh)

6 J White (Sale, capt)

7 A Hogg (Edinburgh)

8 S Taylor (Edinburgh)

Replacements: 16 D Hall, 17 C Smith, 18 A Kellock (all Edinburgh); 19 K Brown (Borders); 20 M Blair, 21 P Godman, 22 S Webster (all Edinburgh)

N Zealand

15 I Toeava (Auckland)

14 R Gear (Nelson Bays)

13 C Smith (Wellington)

12 T Umaga (Wellington, capt)

11 J Rokocoko (Auckland)

10 N Evans (Otago)

9 P Weepu (Wellington)

1 S Taumoepeau (Auckland)

2 A Oliver (Otago)

3 J Afoa (Auckland)

4 C Jack (Canterbury)

5 J Ryan (Otago)

6 A MacDonald (Auckland)

7 R McCaw (Canterbury)

8 S Lauaki (Waikato)

Replacements: 6 A Hore (Taranaki); 17 N Tialata (Wellington); 18 J Eaton (Taranaki); 19 M Tuialii (Canterbury); 20 J Cowan (Southland); 21 L MacDonald (Canterbury); 22 M Nonu (Wellington)

Referee: N Whitehouse (Wales)

Kick-off: 2.30 (TV: BBC1)