Thursday, October 30, 2008

McCaw: Wham-bam the Slam is on

By DUNCAN JOHNSTONE in Hong Kong, RugbyHeaven
Thursday, 30 October 2008

Grand Slam was banned from the All Blacks' vocabulary during their successful 2005 attempt but skipper Richie McCaw didn't dodge the phrase when asked if a repeat was possible on the current tour, declaring it "quite realistic".

Three years ago All Blacks coach Graham Henry went out of his way to ensure the revered Grand Slam wasn't mentioned. The thought of winning all four tests was reduced to a weekly assignment. The result was his side became just the second All Blacks outfit to snare a Slam, matching the 1978 side led by Graham Mourie.

McCaw was making similar noises about every country being treated on their own merits. But when he was asked straight out if another Grand Slam was possible he said, with the benefit of being part of the previous success:

"I think it's quite realistic if you get your planning right. That's certainly the goal but you cut it down to one game at a time. It's the result of doing it right every week from here on and at the end you'd be able to say that. But underlying all that is the fact it would be great to be able to do that."

Henry has gone on record saying that the current tour, with the addition of this weekend's Bledisloe Cup test and fixture against Heineken Cup champions Munster, was arguably the toughest touring assignment undertaken by the All Blacks in terms of test matches, outweighing his 2005 challenge. McCaw didn't disagree with that and believed the constant pressure would rival a World Cup environment.

History suggests they may be right. Only the Wallabies have joined the All Blacks in achieving Grand Slam status down the years. And now Australia are preparing to stall New Zealand's latest attempt with this Hong Kong Bledisloe Cup test.

"Playing five nations who are in the top eight in the world is going to be tough," said McCaw."We have played in World Cups where it's six or seven tests but you get a game against a lower ranked team. Here every week we have to be on the job."

The challenge would be for the All Blacks new-look squad to come up to speed quickly. There was pressure on the new players to contribute.
"We have a squad of 35 and most of those guys are going to be called on to play a role at some point. If you do it well it will be satisfying."

Do you see anyone stopping the All Blacks completing another Slam on this tour? Post your comments below.

OLD FRIENDS: Richie McCaw and Wallabies coach Robbie Deans catch up at the races in Hong Kong. The All Blacks skipper says a Grand Slam over the next month is a 'realistic' target.

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