By DUNCAN JOHNSTONE in Cardiff, RugbyHeaven
Thursday, 20 November 2008
Thursday, 20 November 2008
Maybe it's because he's a Kiwi. Maybe it's because he's a former All Blacks forward. Whatever the reason, it was refreshing to hear Wales coach Warren Gatland admiring, rather than criticising, the skills of All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw ahead of the test this weekend.
McCaw copped the now customary slagging of his breakdown work in the leadup to last week's win over Ireland, albeit from long-retired Wallabies coach Bob Dwyer.
"McCaw gets away with illegality partly because he has taken over the mantle of the No 1 referee in the world from Sean Fitzpatrick," said Dwyer."There is an absolutely widespread belief outside New Zealand that this is the case."
But Gatland reckons they have all got it wrong over McCaw's unparalleled work in the loose.
"When you get the world's top players, the criticism they keep getting is because they are often so good," he said."Richie is a fantastic player, but he is no different to other players in terms of the criticism All Blacks No 7s have had."
And Gatland reckons McCaw's current situation is no different to the tirades former England openside Neil Back copped in the leadup to their World Cup success in 2003.
"When Back was on top of his game, he got the same sort of criticism," said Gatland, adding that the challenge for his loose forwards this weekend was simply to get on top of McCaw."It's how you combat that mentality and what he brings to the game. That's what we have got to cope with."
As usual, the breakdowns battle will hold a key to the test.
McCaw was delighted with the physical presence of the All Blacks loose forwards in their win against Ireland and will demand nothing less against the Welsh as New Zealand look for the third leg of their Grand Slam quest.
All Blacks coach Graham Henry couldn't resist a lash at Dwyer when the New Zealand team settled into Cardiff today.
"I just wonder whose puppet he is," said Henry when asked about McCaw being attacked by the former Wallabies boss. I didn't think he would be a puppet but you get surprises in this game all the time."
McCaw wheeled out his trademark response to what are clearly now tiresome accusations that get wheeled out all too often these days. He said he was unconcerned by the matter being raised again on such an important tour for his side, saying the criticism just went with the territory of being an effective openside flanker these days.
Whose comments do you give most credence to: Warren Gatland's or Bob Dwyer's? Do you think these cheat accusations are fair on McCaw? Post your comments below.