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Not rugby Gods, merely mortals

As Scotland finalise their preparations for this afternoon's clash with world champions New Zealand at Murrayfield, their Australian attack coach Scott Johnson has revisited familiar territory with an emphatic reminder that the All Blacks are merely mortal and that the Scots have nothing to be afraid of.

"They are only human, and so are we," said Johnson at his eve-of-game briefing. "We're respectful of what they are, and in the last 12 months they've been exemplary. But they've only got two legs and two arms just like we have, and the pitch doesn't grow when they've got the ball."

Eight years ago, when working as Wales' assistant coach, Johnson caused a storm of protest when, in an attempt to debunk the All Blacks' near-mythical status, he described New Zealand as "a poxy little island in the Pacific". Johnson subsequently issued an "apology", saying: "Sorry, New Zealand is actually two poxy islands in the Pacific."

Johnson laughed off his remarks yesterday, but reiterated his point that the All Blacks should not be viewed as rugby gods.

Johnson said: "They are a wonderful, proud rugby nation, and no-one can deny that. But you just have to look at the last World Cup, when the French did really well in the final. Ireland did well in certain periods of their recent series as well.

"They are talented, they've got a great rugby system and history. But there are only 15 guys on that pitch. If, as an opposition, you think they are a lot better, then you are in a lot of trouble. They reality is, they are just human, and I keep saying that. They are great players, but so are we."

In their most recent encounter with New Zealand, two years ago, Scotland lost 49-3. Johnson says the All Blacks hit top form that day, but added that the Scots must not allow their opponents to run away with things as they did then. "It is important that we don't allow them free rein to play the way they will want to play," he said.

The All Blacks have not lost a game since winning last year's World Cup, although they did lose their chance to equal their own record of 17 consecutive wins when they drew with Australia last month. After last season's Six Nations whitewash, Scotland have won their last three games, including an epic away victory over the Wallabies in June.

In light of which, and despite dismissive assessments of Scotland in the New Zealand media, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen made it clear that his side would not be taking their hosts lightly today.

"When you analyse Scotland's form in the Six Nations, they maybe didn't get the results they wanted, but they were not that far away," said Hansen. "I think the next Six Nations will be a lot better than the last one for Scotland. The talent is there and they just have to believe in themselves."

Horrible history – Pages 2-3

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