It's been more than a decade since the All Blacks
ventured to Perth on the banks of the River Tay in central
Like the decline of the local whisky industry, such ventures
from international rugby teams have shrunk.
Since that day back in 2001 when the All Blacks turned out
for a 35-13 victory against Scotland A, they have played only
three games outside their test schedule.
There was an outing against the Barbarians in 2004, a special
game with Munster in 2008 and the Barbarians once more the
Around that, it has been a mass of internationals as the All
Blacks and their administrative masters have worked to
balance the books, keep players on their payroll and deal
with the IRB rosters.
If 2001 gave the players just a little taste of rugby outside
the test arenas, you had to go back a further eight years to
find the last time the All Blacks played a few games in
It was 1993 as they worked their way through the opposition
in Galashiels, Glasgow and Edinburgh before they rolled up
for the test against Gavin Hastings' mob.
A quartet of All Backs made their debut that afternoon
including wing Jeff Wilson, who scored three tries and kicked
a sideline conversion in the 51-15 drubbing of their hosts.
Fellow new boys that day were Stu Forster, Steve Gordon and
Ellis was best known as a utility three-quarter for Otago and
the previous year he had been picked for the All Blacks
midweek sides in Australia and South Africa as a centre.
But a year later, current selector Grant Fox retired after
the domestic series with the British and Irish Lions as the
panel pondered his replacement.
Stephen Bachop was in the frame once more as coach Laurie
Mains and selectors Peter Thorburn and Earle Kirton mulled
over their options.
Who knows who delivered the most persuasive arguments among
that group but it's likely Kirton, who favoured some
left-field theories, persuaded the others that Ellis should
be shifted to first five-eighths.
There was no doubt about Ellis' running and defensive game.
He was a confident bloke with the ball and was used to all
sorts of biff and bash in midfield.
The uncertainty was about his game direction and the tactical
kicking needed for games at the highest level. But the panel
took the plunge and rated Ellis as a stronger competitor
under pressure than the gifted but flighty Bachop.
Up stepped Ellis for his test debut at Murrayfield, gathered
two tries and led the side imperiously around the park for
their huge victory.
Goldie got most of the accolades because of his hat-trick and
fascination about his ability to mix rugby and cricket, but
Ellis was not far adrift.
A week later, both men were downcast in the dressing rooms at
Twickenham as the All Blacks fell 15-9 to England.
There is little room for those sort of selection experiments
on the All Blacks current tour unless they yank a buck, a doe
and a handful of kits out of the selection hat tomorrow.
Starting Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Dane Coles would qualify but
there is more chance of Steve Hansen swimming the Firth of
Forth than that happening.
Instead, the coach and squad are fixed on addressing some of
the frailties which crept into their work in the last test
against the Wallabies.
They know they could have taken an unlikely victory had
Daniel Carter's after-the-hooter dropped goal been 1m to the
left. They would have taken that victory no matter what.
An 18-18 draw was better than a loss but they left Suncorp
Stadium with little taste for any festivity knowing they had
blown their chance for a tilt at a world-record winning
The All Blacks have shelved that despair, flown halfway
around the world and have Scotland in their sights as the
first foe on their end-of-year tour on Monday (NZT).
The side will be revealed later tonight and there will be
changes - not because of Brisbane but the need, as the
selectors see it, to split some of their resources and get
everyone into work during the opening tests against Scotland
Who knows, the division of some labour may flush out some new
ideas, reinvigorate older talent or show up a few whose
production may have been concealed in the team approach?
Give Hansen one thing. No, not a wetsuit to go swimming.
A bit like Kirton, he is prepared to think outside the
accepted selection templates. He is always looking for
something new, some tactic or play to stay ahead of the world
while still attending to basic rugby formulas.
He might use Ben Smith at centre or rearrange his loose
Whatever he does, he wants to hit Murrayfield with a team
full of certainty. He wants them to be so sure of their work
they do not have time to get twitchy.
It's been only a few weeks since they last played. They have
that advantage over Scotland who are starting their winter
No matter, no mercy will be Hansen's call.
He will also lay it on the line that test positions are open
for the matches with Wales and England. These are auditions
for everyone - show us what you've got.
If all that fails and the All Blacks trip up for the first
time against Scotland, Hansen might as well wade out into the
Firth of Forth and keep going.
- By Wynne Gray of the New Zealand Herald in