NZPA - (11/11/2010)
The presence of Richie McCaw and Mils Muliaina in a milestone test at Murrayfield on Sunday (6.15am NZT) emphasises the All Blacks cautious approach to the second leg of their Grand Slam attempt.
Traditionally McCaw and Muliaina would watch from the stands -- or at best the bench -- when Graham Henry's squad ventured north of the border.
Yet a week after a 26-16 victory in London, the All Blacks captain, his long-standing lieutenant and even Daniel Carter will be starting against an opponent accustomed to facing All Black debutants or dirt trackers.
The Scots will appreciate this rare compliment, despite the potential ramifications -- a near full-strength side has been chosen to ensure McCaw and Muliaina join Sean Fitzpatrick on a record 92 test caps in appropriate circumstances.
The All Blacks have never lost to Scotland in 27 tests since the inaugural meeting at Murrayfield in 1905 -- and in Henry's eyes now is not the time to underestimate an opponent that upset the Wallabies last November before securing a historic series win in Argentina five months ago.
Having beaten the Springboks as far back as 1906, New Zealand are the only southern hemisphere scalp to elude the Scots -- and considering Jerome Kaino is the only first choice All Black rested this weekend that wait appears set to continue.
Henry has made five changes to the starting line-up that secured a ninth successive win over the English - he hopes to avoid a sixth by appealing hooker Keven Mealamu's four-week ban for head butting Lewis Moody during a fractious second half at Twickenham.
The 82-test hooker has been bracketed with the uncapped Hika Elliot pending a review of the suspension imposed by International Rugby Board judicial officer Professor Lorne Crerar last night.
Mealamu and a New Zealand Rugby Union legal team make submissions to a three-member IRB panel on Friday (Sat NZT) in what seems an optimistic bid to free the veteran to play this weekend and in the subsequent tests in Dublin and Cardiff.
With Mealamu's future involvement in jeopardy Andrew Hore's selection on the bench is timely, although there will be concerns about his match fitness after a six-month lay-off following shoulder surgery.
Liam Messam is the only confirmed change in the pack, the versatile Waikato loose forward will occupy the blindside flank when returning to starting point of his five test career two years ago.
Henry has made some significant changes to the backline -- Isaia Toeava, first capped at Murrayfield in 2005, replaces Joe Rokocoko on the right wing while the Sonny Bill Williams experiment enters its next phase with the talented midfielder replacing Ma'a Nonu at second five-eighth.
Nonu drops to the bench while Conrad Smith returns to centre after missing the England test to facilitate Williams' debut.
In another anticipated alteration Jimmy Cowan regains the halfback berth from Alby Mathewson; Hosea Gear, impressive against England, retains his place on the left wing as Cory Jane continues to recover from a rib injury.
The All Blacks bench also features John Afoa as propping cover and emergency hooker while Anthony Boric covers the second row, meaning Tom Donnelly has been inactive since the Bledisloe Cup loss in Hong Kong.
McCaw's understudy Daniel Braid is the loose forward cover while Stephen Donald, is still waiting to make amends after Carter faced England for the duration.
Factbox on the All Blacks three most-capped test players in New Zealand rugby history:
Sean Fitzpatrick, Richie McCaw and Mils Muliaina ahead of Sunday's (6.15amNZT) international against Scotland at Murrayfield:
Born: June 4, 1963 at Auckland, age 47
All Black debut: v France at Christchurch, June 28, 1986
Last test: v Wales at London, Nov 27, 1997
All Black tests: 92 (51 as captain) won 72 lost 16 drawn 2
All Black games: 36 (11 as captain)
Born: Dec 30, 1980 at Oamaru, age 29
All Black debut: v Ireland at Dublin, Nov 17, 2001
All Black tests: 91 (54 as captain) won 81 lost 10
All Black games: 1 (1 as captain)
Born: July 31, 1980 at Salelesi (Samoa), age 30
All Black debut: v England at Wellington, June 14, 2003
All Black tests: 91 (3 as captain) won 76 lost 14
All Black games: 2
The team to play Scotland is as follows: (click on the following link http://www.allblacks.com/index.cfm?layout=displayNews&newsArticle=14845 )