By RICHARD KNOWLER, The Press
Friday, 30 May 2008
Richie McCaw was forced to do the talking for Crusaders hooker Ti'i Paulo.
The naming of Paulo at rake, in place of the injured Corey Flynn, was the only change made to the Crusaders side to face the Waratahs in tomorrow night's Super 14 final. Flynn broke his right arm in the semi-final win over the Hurricanes last weekend, giving Paulo his first start in a final while the relatively unknown Steve Fualau is listed on the bench.
With Paulo placed off-limits to the media, it was left to McCaw to reveal how the 25-year-old had coped with the pressure of preparing for a final and the lineouts which are sure to be hotly contested by Waratahs locks Dan Vickerman and Dean Mumm.
Skipper McCaw denied there was any need to take Paulo aside for a quiet word in the countdown to the final, saying he was confident the former New Zealand under-21 captain would handle the heat at AMI Stadium.
"I don't think so. He's been around the scene around for a while. I'm sure he will just slot in," McCaw said. "He played an outstanding game, I thought, for the 60 minutes he was on (against the Hurricanes). So I think he will be fine."
Last weekend the Waratahs targeted the Sharks lineout in their semi in Sydney, stealing five of Bismark du Plessis' throws and disrupting any chance the South Africans had of launching any attacks from the set piece.
McCaw noted Flynn and Paulo have regularly swapped lineout throwing duties at trainings during the season.
"We've been practising all year, so it will be no different."
Fualau has totalled six appearances for Canterbury and Tasman over the last two years and is a member of the Crusaders' wider training group. It is stating the obvious to note that Fualau, who has never played in a Super 14 match, will nervously count-down the hours to kick-off as contemplates the prospect of being rushed on to replace an injured Paulo.
The Waratahs also made just one change to the side that beat the Sharks, bringing first-choice hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau, who missed the semi with a hand injury, in for Adam Freier.
Crusaders coach Robbie Deans has retained Reuben Thorne, who leaves for Japan next month after a 12-year career with the franchise, on the bench ahead of Ross Filipo and Michael Paterson but was not tempted to thrust the veteran into the starting side ahead of the in-form Kieran Read.
There was to be no room, however, for another veteran, Caleb Ralph, who will also soon leave for Japan. Sean Maitland will provide wing cover on the bench.Barring an outbreak of illness forcing a late call-up, Ralph's career in New Zealand ended when the Crusaders lost their final round-robin match to the Highlanders.
Deans paid tribute to his ability to play 100 consecutive Super matches, adding it was not an achievement that was likely to be matched. He noted it was never easy for players to end up being omitted, referring to a comment All Blacks great John Kirwan made when he announced his retirement from rugby in 2004.