As the shadows encroached on the increasingly dimly lit Peffermill Playing Fields and the first-choice All Blacks went about their work, thoughts drifted to what to expect at Murrayfield.

Edinburgh's fast fading mid-afternoon sun and typically brisk climate brought an equally chilling proposition; locals could be in for a fright this weekend.

Edinburgh is a stunning city steeped in history. From the old town to ghost tours, character springs from every alleyway. It is home to an ancient University (1583); captivating castle on the resplendent Royal Mile and the inspiration behind J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter.

When it comes to the All Blacks, though, history is not so littered with highlights. Thirty games in 112 years, and two draws (1964 and 1983) is the closest Scotland have come.


You won't hear the All Blacks say as much - they genuinely respect all opponents - but another comfortable win is surely expected.

Scotland defeated Australia away from home in June but, in a much better gauge of their current state with 13 players missing through injury, surrendered a 22-point lead as Samoa finished within six here last weekend, the visitors scoring three soft tries from close range in a match where defence seemed optional.

Three years ago, the last time they ventured here, the All Blacks struggled to pull away, eventually emerging 24-16. That day James Parsons, Jeremy Thrush, Dominic Bird, Colin Slade (on the wing) and Richie McCaw (at blindside) all started.

Circumstances are very different this time around. This week, there is no experimentation. This, with the possible exception of Vaea Fifita at blindside and Liam Squire held back on the bench, is the All Blacks' strongest available side.

"Last time we rolled the dice a bit but we had a far more experienced group to be able to roll the dice," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. "This time we rolled the dice last Tuesday so we didn't have to roll it twice."

No team is ever in prefect shape. The All Blacks have eight front-liners at home, with Dane Coles joining that extended group last week. Captain Kieran Read carries a hip flexor issue; Luke Romano is battered and Fifita covers lock with Patrick Tuipulotu to front the judiciary for his hit that knocked out French No 8 Marco Tauleigne in Lyon mid-week.

Three from the bench also feature in their third match in seven days.

But after several months of inconsistency - brilliance mixed with frustrating discipline in particular - and careful rotation to ensure key personnel are fresh for this time of year, this top team must soon click. The bad news for Scotland is that could come this week.


Timing appears right.

Vern Cotter drastically improved the Scots, and Gregor Townsend may pick up where the Kiwi left off. But the expansive style they are adopting under his guidance, while pleasing to watch, may play into the All Blacks' hands.

Classy fullback Stuart Hogg, who leads an all-Glasgow backline, presents danger. First five-eighth Finn Russell is a talent, too, but this is not Scotland's best team. On paper at least, it does not appear a fair fight.

The other dynamic is the All Blacks' internal competition. The vast majority of Hansen's incumbents remain secure but his second-stringers served a hurry up with their performance against a spirited French XV in Lyon. Their patience on attack at times was notable. Other elements delivered a few examples too.

Hunger that stems from pressure to perform only strengthens the quest for continued improvement.

"You don't have to say anything the stats have put enough heat on the boys," Hansen said. "The older guys understand the other team has set the standard defensively and there's a little bit of a challenge on there and it's only going to get better. Bring 10 more back from injury and various other things and you've got a pretty good squad of 50 odd players. That bodes well for the future."

Edinburgh's low-lying sun will be well set by the time 5.15pm kickoff rolls around. If the All Blacks front as they should and keep the foot on the throat for once, this test could also prove a blackout.

All Blacks:

Damian McKenzie, Waisake Naholo, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Beauden Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Sam Cane, Vaea Fifita, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Nepo Laulala, Codie Taylor, Kane Hames

Reserves: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Liam Squire, Matt Todd, TJ Perenara, Lima Sopoaga, Anton Lienert-Brown


Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Alex Dunbar, Lee Jones, Finn Russell, Ali Price, Darryl Marfo, Stuart McInally, Zander Fagerson, Ben Toolis, Jonny Gray, John Barclay (c), Hamish Watson, Cornell du Preez

Reserves: George Turner, Jamie Bhatti, Simon Berghan, Grant Gilchrist, Luke Hamilton, Henry Pyrgos, Pete Horne, Byron McGuigan