The return of McCaw

2013-10-02 00:00

THE return of captain and flank Richie McCaw to the All Black team will add to the intensity — and the importance — of the breakdown battle against the Springboks at Ellis Park on Saturday evening.

McCaw has made a rapid recovery from his medial ligament injury and is confident of being ready to face the Springboks in what promises to be another torrid Test between the world’s two leading rugby nations.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is desperate to have his 32-year-old captain back for the Rugby Championship decider, one which the Boks have to win by scoring four tries and denying the New Zealanders a bonus point.

“Richie is probably the greatest player we’ve ever had so it’ll be nice having him back on the track,” Hansen said. “He’s a good judge of his own body. Watching him train all week he got better and better. He’ll be fine.”

McCaw’s place will only be assured once he gets through tomorrow’s practice, but the Springboks are expecting him to play.

McCaw is a breakdown specialist, using means both fair and foul to force turnovers or slow the opposition’s ball.

The Springboks, under Scottish breakdown coach Richie Gray, have improved dramatically in a critical area of the game.

Springbok flank Willem Alberts said yesterday that the return of McCaw would add to the challenge facing the South Africans.

“It will make the breakdown contest bigger for us, but we’ve been working hard to achieve what we want to. The All Blacks have always had good loose forwards, but we do as well, and we can match them.”

Nigel Owens will referee the Test and the Boks are hoping that he will keep a beady Welsh eye on McCaw at the breakdown.

Bok forward coach Johan van Graan said that the likely return of McCaw would not influence the tactical approach. “Richie is one of the all-time best players, we respect him for that, but we’re just going to focus on what we want to do. I hope it goes well for him.”

Van Graan said the Boks had performed impressively at the breakdown in the first round Rugby Championship Test in Auckland, particularly in defence when they won eight turnovers.

He said the All Blacks placed a massive emphasis on the breakdown.

“Look at their players. Richie McCaw, Liam Messam, a guy like Brodie Retallick, they are massive nuisances at the breakdown. Then you have Tony Woodcock, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea with the counter rucking in the wide channels. But we’ve planned well for this game.”

Former All Black and Lions coach Laurie Mains said that the New Zealanders would have to play exceptionally well to win at Ellis Park.

The All Blacks have won only three of their 11 Tests at the ground since 1928.

“South Africa in South Africa at any time are tough and at Ellis Park it will be tougher again,” Mains told reporters.

“Believe me, the Springboks are a better team than the one we saw in Auckland [when the All Blacks won 29-15], where the referee destroyed the game and it largely counted against them. The All Blacks will do extremely well to win it.

“They should win with the dynamics of the team and the way they play. But it will be a very tough one.”

He highlighted the altitude factor.

“It has always been difficult for visiting teams in the 15 minutes before half-time and in the last 20 minutes of a match,” said Mains.

The Test kicks off at 5 pm on Saturday, while the Pumas host the Wallabies in the early hours of Sunday morning (SA time).

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