By John Davidson, (RLP RLWC Correspondent) Date: 14/11/13
Scotland face the biggest challenge in their short rugby league history against New Zealand in Leeds on Friday night.
Scotland has only had its own domestic competition since 1997 and its’ national team started in 1995. The Bravehearts first played in the World Cup in 2000, where they lost all three of their games, and in 2008 they won one of their three matches. But in this tournament they have been a pleasant surprise, remaining undefeated in three group games and reaching the quarter-finals for the first time.
With long-time coach and captain, Steve McCormack and Danny Brough, the Scottish seemed to have built a tremendous spirit and level of togetherness. They are playing for each other and working hard. Despite limited preparation they have lifted for their occasion and been a pleasure to watch. They have not hosted a game on home soil, unlike England, Ireland and Wales, but have managed two wins and a draw.
The Scots are thrilled to have gotten this far and barring a miracle, this is where their World Cup adventure will end.
New Zealand have arguably played the best football so far in this tournament of any nation and potentially have a better squad than they did when they won the World Cup five years ago. They have some experienced veterans who have tasted success at the international level before combined with young guns like Keiran Foran and Josh Foran. Roger Tusieva-Sheck is on fire, with four tries already, and they also boast his Roosters teammate Sonny Bill Williams, one of the best players in the world.
Their pack is huge and fearsome, and they have depth across the park. There are no weak links in this squad. Theu have posted big scores against Samoa, France and Papua New Guniea, and the only criticism they have generated is the fact they have taken their foor off the throat of their opponents once they have built up a big lead.
They did allow Samoa to come back at them in Warrington, especially when the Samoans upped their physicality, and they did ease up against the Kumuls in the second half. But the Kiwis have won every game comfortably without too much effort.
They are playing their second game at Headingley in a row and are at full fitness apart from the injured Thoma Leuliua. Scotland do not have the same luxury in deoth and will be without the suspended Dale Ferguson. To have any chance of staying with the New Zealanders, the Bravehearts must slow down their big forwards and stop Isaac Luke getting easy metres down the middle. Huge games will be needed by the likes of Luke Douglas and Mitch Stringer to meet fire with fire.
However, I expect the world champions to get the win and advance into the semis. If Scotland can limit the damage to a 20-point differential, that will be a victory of sorts itself.
New Zealand team to take on Scotland
Sonny Bill Williams
Scotland team to take on New Zealand