Captain McCaw out to make amends
Captain Richie McCaw is annoyed his leadership was not up to scratch late in the All Blacks' loss to Australia and wants to make important lessons count in their final two tests before the rugby World Cup.
McCaw, who has boasted a superb record of getting New Zealand over the line in tight games as skipper, says he let his guard down in Melbourne two weeks ago as the Wallabies stormed home to a 20-15 win.
Since that game his captaincy has been the subject of rare criticism, from former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones and sections of New Zealand media.
Getting ready to lead his country for a 19th time, against South Africa at Jade Stadium on Saturday, McCaw said he was stung by how the fatal final quarter unfolded at the MCG, admitting he should have called for more tactical kicking when Australia's tackling began to apply the squeeze.
"As leaders of the team we just needed to really make sure -- especially in the second half when the Wallabies got their tail up -- that we changed our tack a wee bit and perhaps didn't play with the ball behind the gainline," McCaw said."I'll definitely take responsibility for that but it's been a big learning for everyone I think."
McCaw agreed with his coach Graham Henry that the All Blacks had paid for focusing too hard on their opening Tri-Nations defeat of the Springboks in Durban. They did not adjust well to the short buildup for Melbourne and were not in the right head space at the MCG.
He seriously doubted that would be an issue this week, particularly if the aggression and focus from his teammates was any guide.
"The way we've trained has been a huge step up ... the enthusiasm's been great this week," McCaw said."You've got to use it (loss) to your advantage.It made us take a good look at what we got wrong. Perhaps the week before we glossed over a few things that we didn't get quite right in South Africa.I know a lot of the guys are hurting ... if we don't learn from this experience, then this team's in trouble."
McCaw's opposing skipper on Saturday will be Sharks lock Johann Muller, named yesterday as the Springboks' 53rd captain and the fourth in four tests after rested pair John Smit and Victor Matfield and the injured Bob Skinstad.
The appointment was a difficult one for Springboks coach Jake White, who also considered the merits of hooker Gary Botha and flanker Wickus van Heerden.
He said Muller got the nod as he was a virtual World Cup certainty while the other two were battling for their places in the 30-man squad and did not want them distracted.Botha was surprisingly named on the bench in one of four changes, replaced by Bismarck du Plessis.
Skinstad and lock Johan Ackermann make way for Jacques Cronje and Albert van den Berg respectively while JP Pietersen shifts from wing to fullback, ousting custodian Bevan Fortuin but creating a spot for Jaco Pretorius.A proud Muller said his hero and mentor had been a former Sharks lock, Mark Andrews, the Springboks' most capped forward (77 tests).
"I always saw him as my role model and one of my best rugby memories is that I got the chance to play alongside him at the Sharks," Muller said."Mark came to pay me a visit at our hotel Sydney and I'll definitely be calling him to get some tips for Saturday's test against the All Blacks."
However, the Springboks' media session yesterday was dominated by another grilling for White over his decision to bring his second-choice players on tour.
White reiterated his stance that the World Cup took precedence and he was giving his top players the best chance to be in peak condition in September/October.
"The reality is that winning World Cups, you need 30 good players," he said."If Carl Hayman, Richie McCaw or Dan Carter got injured tomorrow, is that the end of the All Black campaign for the World Cup? If it is, have you done justice to the four years of going into a World Cup."
McCaw had more things to worry about than the weak appearance of the Springboks,"We're taking a good hard look at ourselves on the field and off the field, making sure we're better than what we've been so far," he said."The first five tests we've had have been a start but we've really got to take a step forward in these last two. It's got to go up a level this week and everyone knows that."