Steve Hansen: Scotland must be respected
His attempts at flattery won't convince the majority of sceptics, but according to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, Scotland have moved on from last year's horror season and must be respected.
In the 107-year rivalry, Scotland has never beaten the All Blacks, only managing two draws in the 28 encounters.
The stark disparity in talent has only grown since the advent of professionalism and the boom in New Zealand's melting pot of multi-skilled athletes.
That trend shows no sign of reversing.
The closest margin in the last five All Blacks' tests in Edinburgh was 19 points and the last draw between the two proud nations was 29 long years ago. Twenty-three of this 32-man All Blacks squad weren't born then.
Further proof of the All Blacks dominance was seen in 2010. The 49-3 victory at Murrayfield, the same venue for next Monday morning's (NZ time) clash, was merciless. Seven-tries-to-one paints the picture.
Another romp is likely next Monday, given the struggles of Scottish teams in the Heineken Cup.
To date, they've lost eight of their nine matches.
But Hansen begs to differ with prevailing sentiment. He deftly side-stepped predictions of his side issuing a familiar beating to open their European tour, instead going on a charmed offensive to talk up last year's Six Nations wooden spooners.
Hansen also suggested the addition of Australian skills coach Scott Johnson, a close friend who he worked with at Wales, would see the one-dimensional Scots be more adventurous. That seems as likely as a mildly warm evening in the highlands this time of year.
"They are very physical and have one of the biggest packs we'll come across," Hansen said. "At home they are a very proud nation. They will play tenaciously and look to slow our ball down. They'll look to play a bit more attacking rugby with Scotty Johnson around. Right across the pack they will attack us. It will be a good challenge."
Last year was forgettable for the Scots.
After losing all five matches, including a 13-6 defeat to Italy in the Six Nations, Andy Robinson's men failed to make the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time in history.
Those dark clouds have since evaporated, somewhat. Now there's a black wave to combat.
This year, Scotland gained redemption with a dour, but historic, 9-6 win over the Wallabies, their first in Australia since 1982. That instigated a three-match winning streak. Back-to-back wins in Fiji and Samoa completed their successful June sojourn.
"They showed in the conditions down in Australia they are good enough to beat tier-one sides on their day," Hansen said. "Nothing has changed in my opinion. We've got to respect them immensely.
"For us, the challenge all year has been the opposition and improving our performance. We've come off a pretty average one against Australia, an 18-all draw. There's a fair bit of disappointment around that. Some people are going to get an early opportunity to rectify that; others will have to wait t a bit longer."