NZPA - July 23, 2008, 6:15 pm
Five years of waiting is over for Daniel Braid, who will be a more confident figure when he re-enters the test rugby arena against Australia in Sydney on Saturday. Richie McCaw's unexpected race to be fit for the Bledisloe Cup opener ended today when he decided after training that his ankle was not ready for the battle with brilliant Wallabies No 7 George Smith. That task instead falls to Braid, who was not convinced it was a good thing to learn of McCaw's fate a little earlier than expected.
"It might be worse, it gives me time to stew over it," he told NZPA."Actually it didn't really matter when I found out. I've prepared all week as if I was going to play."
Braid, 27, thought McCaw was a sure thing this week when he charged around the training field but it became apparent the 62-test veteran was struggling to recover each day.
"I could see that Richie was sore around the hotel and started to think that maybe I might get the nod."
Braid last tasted test rugby at the 2003 World Cup where 13 minutes against Canada and 54 minutes against Tonga were his lot. The biggest of his three tests came the year before against Wales in Cardiff where he and fellow loose forward Rodney So'oialo both made their test debuts.
Their fortunes then diverged, with So'oialo going on to rack up 46 tests and inherit the captaincy in McCaw's absence while Braid has plied his trade for Auckland and the Blues with no international reward.
"It was pretty frustrating because I had some pretty good form at certain times. I also had injuries and didn't have good form at other times," Braid said. "The fact I was winning championships at Auckland and playing some good rugby at the Blues kept me here. I've always wanted to play for the All Blacks again as well."
The son of former All Blacks lock Gary Braid, the blond-haired flyer did not think he was mentally ready for test rugby when introduced by coach John Mitchell.
"I've changed a lot, I think. I was a pretty young player when I was at that World Cup," he said.
"I'm more confident in myself, being a more mature player and I'm a lot more at ease with the guys here. A lot of them I was in the team with back then were really young guys as well -- Richie, Dezzy (Daniel Carter) -- and they've come through and they're leading the team really well now."
He believed he was ready for the enormous challenge of countering Smith and the cohesive Wallabies pack at the breakdown.
"I've played quite a few years against George, very solid at the breakdown, you've got to get him early before he gets there because he gets in a very good position. He's also a very good ball runner, he's one of their key carriers when they're turning over phases."
Braid said he had shaken off the calf injury that ruled him out of the New Zealand Maori team's Pacific Nations Cup campaign. He came through two club fixtures and last week's Ranfurly Shield defence against Poverty Bay without any recurrence. The question surrounding McCaw now is whether he will be fit for next week's return test against Australia in Auckland. So'oialo did well to hide any disappointment that the regular skipper's bid to play in Sydney had fallen short.
"I always thought it would be pretty tough for Richie, coming back from an injury like that," he told NZPA."Daniel's a great player, he's got a lot to offer for this team so it's good to have him back after being away for so long."
So'oialo indicated the left-right flanker system employed in all five New Zealand tests this year would be ditched to accommodate Braid.
"Having Daniel is probably a good thing. Having him as a specialist openside will benefit the team against a team like Australia."