sport

Gray run-out lifts Scotland

Lock Richie Gray has given Scotland a timely boost ahead of Sunday's EMC Test with New Zealand after taking a full part in training on Tuesday.

Gray has not played since Sale Sharks' Heineken Cup clash with Cardiff Blues on October 14 due to an ankle injury, but was named in Scotland head coach Andy Robinson's starting XV for this weekend's clash with the All Blacks.

And the 23-year-old passed a fitness test on Tuesday, the Scottish Rugby Union announced.

Robinson said: "Richie has trained fully with us this afternoon and is in good spirits. He is raring to go for Sunday's match."

Scotland have been hit by a host of injuries, with Gray's the most troublesome.

Sale chief executive Steve Diamond suggested Gray would miss the All Blacks Test after the forward's late withdrawal from the side to play London Irish last Friday.

Speaking on Tuesday morning, prior to training, Robinson declined the opportunity to counter Diamond's remarks but expressed optimism Gray would be able to take his place in the team.

"Richie's had really good treatment over the last couple of weeks," said Robinson.

"We knew it was a three-week injury that he had. He's been doing light training and we're looking at him doing a fitness test today and for him to be fine to play.

"People have to make their own comments. From our side you go day by day with a player to see the improvements that he can make."

Robinson insisted all his players must be at full fitness to play against the world's best side.

He added: "We're expecting every player to be right. We won't be putting any player at risk, so if they're not 100 per cent right they won't go on the field and play.

"The key for this game for us is that we need everybody at 100 per cent so they can go toe-to-toe with New Zealand."

Scotland have never beaten the All Blacks since the first meeting in 1905 in Inverleith, Edinburgh.

In 28 attempts, Scotland have drawn twice, in 1964 and 1983, while two years' ago the New Zealand side which went on to lift the World Cup claimed a 49-3 win, featuring three tries in the opening nine minutes.

Robinson's comments on Scotland's feared and revered opponents were filled with superlatives, detailing every aspect of the game and every position, yet he retains confidence his side can cause an upset.

As well as taking encouragement from Australia's draw with the All Blacks, a result which last month ended a 16-match winning run, Robinson believes Ireland showed his side the way to victory.

In June, Ireland were level with the All Blacks in Christchurch, only to fall to a last-gasp Dan Carter drop-goal.

"You've got to control the scoreboard," Robinson said.

"You've got to be able to go toe-to-toe with them. Ireland got very close.

"They scored early and were able to stay in the game; outstanding defence from Ireland on that day.

"You've got to be accurate inside your third and Ireland got caught out with one scrum at the end of the game."

Scotland responded from the disappointment of exiting the group stage of the World Cup for the first time and a RBS 6 Nations wooden spoon with three wins on their June Tour to Australia, Fiji and Samoa.

Robinson has made five changes to the side which won in Apia on June 23, with Gray partnered in the second row by Jim Hamilton, who was banned for the summer tour for an indiscretion while playing for Gloucester and replaces Alastair Kellock.

Saracens back-row Kelly Brown returns from injury to win his 50th cap and first as captain, replacing number eight Richie Vernon, who was not selected in the initial squad, to line-up in the back-row alongside Ross Rennie and Alasdair Strokosch.

Centre Nick De Luca and scrum-half Mike Blair replace injured duo Joe Ansbro and Chris Cusiter, respectively, while Geoff Cross starts at tighthead prop in place of Euan Murray, who is not available due to his religious beliefs as the match falls on a Sunday.

Glasgow Warriors loosehead Ryan Grant made his first three appearances in June and takes a 100 per cent international record into the clash with the world champions, with hooker Ross Ford completing the front-row.

Blair is partnered at half-back by a familiar colleague in Greig Laidlaw, the Edinburgh captain, with De Luca joined in the centre by Matt Scott.

Holland-born Edinburgh wing Tim Visser will make his first Scotland appearance at Murrayfield, having qualified on residency grounds in June before scoring two tries on his debut in Fiji. Stuart Hogg and Sean Lamont complete the back three.

The only uncapped player in the matchday 23 is replacement scrum-half Henry Pyrgos.

Scotland must overcome more than just their own record against the All Blacks to win.

The tourists' most recent November defeat in Europe was England's Twickenham win in 2002, when Robinson was assistant to Sir Clive Woodward.

Robinson said: "They haven't been beaten in the autumn internationals for 10 years. That takes a special side to be able to do that."