Scots look to vary game in bid to combat ABs
Giant lock Richie Gray has declared himself fit and ready to play the All Blacks and hinted the Scottish pack will take on the All Blacks up the middle of the park.
Gray has been struggling with an ankle injury for weeks and taken little part in training, but passed a fitness test yesterday in what is a major relief for the injury-ravaged Scots.
There's little doubt the 2.07m blonde-haired Sale second-rower is a talismanic figure in the pack and the go-to man at lineout time where it appears the All Blacks can expect plenty of close-quarter exchanges.
"I played them two years ago and the thing that stood out was the physicality and the intensity they play at," Gray said.
"They play a very fast-paced game and they don't make many mistakes. They do the basics extremely well under pressure and that's again what I'm expecting from this New Zealand side.
"But we've been doing a lot of analysis; the coach has been doing a lot of analysis about where he thinks we can have a crack at them, so we have to exploit that.
"Any team that goes up against New Zealand wants to keep the ball off them. We'll look to maul, we'll look to play a bit too, we'll look to vary it up.
"We'll stick to our game plan and the strengths of what we can do. As we talked about before, mauls and varying up the game, that will be our strength."
Just what sort of variation that includes remains to be seen, but one senses the Scots will not be running onto Murrayfield with any grand designs to suddenly transform into a side full of running.
Gray was taking "huge confidence" from the June win over Australia and may privately be hoping the match-day forecast of continuing fine weather does not pan out.
It would also not surprise if All Blacks coach Steve Hansen selected his top locking duo of Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano to combat the Scots mauling, but it's in the backs that the home side will be most concerned.
Both Edinburgh and Glasgow have been leaking tries at an alarming rate this season and it is not a good sign that Scotland's Australian defence coach Matt Taylor says he's had to work on the "basics of tackling" in recent weeks.
"We've only had seven sessions together before we play New Zealand," he said. "You can't improve the basics overnight. But I've had a good chat and looked at guys techniques especially at [the camp at] St Andrews and fine tuned some things I think can improve them."
Ultimately the defence would come down to passion and attitude, he said before suggesting a saving grace was that Scotland knew what was coming their way.
"They have parts of the field where you kind of know what's coming. Whether we're good enough to stop that we'll see."
Taylor also hinted at the "variation" Gray suggested would come into Scotland's play in saying their kicking game needed to be smarter than simply hoist and chase.
"They are very good at their kick returns and how they run those back. You have to be smart about where you kick, how you kick and where you are kicking too.
"There's no secret, it's just doing the fundamentals well and to the best of your opportunity.
"We've looked at the opposition and they've very good, but there are points we feel we can pinpoint.
"We're going in to win the test match, simple as that. As a national team that's what you take into any test match."
The Dominion Post