Yahoo!Xtra Sport, Neil Reid in Sydney
July 27, 2008, 11:12 am
The return of Richie McCaw to the All Blacks remains up in the air, with coach Graham Henry saying he is only a "fifty-fifty" contender to be fit for next weekend's clash with the Wallabies.
McCaw's leadership and all-round skills were sorely missed as the All Blacks crashed to a 34-19 loss to the Wallabies in Sydney on Saturday night.
McCaw watched the match from the sidelines of Sydney's ANZ Stadium, clearly frustrated at the error-ridden and at-times rudder-less showing the All Blacks served up.
It had been hoped McCaw would return for the clash, having been named in the starting 15 by Henry last Tuesday. But just 24 hours later and he was scratched from selection contention, with his ankle injury being deemed not ready for a return. And he is no certainty either for next weekend's return clash at Eden Park.
"I would say it is a fifty-fifty at this stage," Henry said. "He is making progress. He is working on it every day, he trained on it (on Saturday) morning and hopefully he will be right for next week. But at this stage, I think it is fifty-fifty."
Daniel Braid made his first test appearance since 2003 in McCaw's absence in Sydney.
But he was clearly out of his depth, struggling with the step up from playing club rugby for the past two weeks to jumping back into the international arena.
Braid was taken from the field shortly after halftime.
"We thought he was struggling with the speed of the game," Henry said. "He hadn't played a lot of rugby over the last two or three months. He played three games in the last two weeks, he hasn't played much more than that. He was struggling with the pace of the game. The pace of the game was probably as quick as you will ever see, it was a hell of a quick game. So guys who hadn't played at that level for a while would have found that tough."
Meanwhile, Henry says the All Blacks did nothing wrong in the incident which forced a temporary halt to the clash.
Play was stopped around the 50-minute mark after halfback Andy Ellis returned to the field, despite being substituted after 45 minutes.
His replacement Jimmy Cowan was then forced from the field, with an injury Henry described as a "cut lip".
However in the moments leading up to his return to the sideline he had been lying in pain on the turf with a knee injury.
Henry said Ellis was allowed to return to the field temporarily as Cowan had been sent to the blood bin.
Cowan's lip looked fine on his eventual return, however his knee had heavy strapping to it.
"Jimmy came off with a cut lip," Henry said.
He added: "He had a medial ligament question mark. But the medical staff and he thought he was right, so he played. So they passed him as fit."
Pic on the right by FSS on Saturday night --Merci!