Thursday, November 20, 2008

McCaw and Carter banish Cardiff ghosts ... (can't we just not talk about it?)

By DUNCAN JOHNSTONE in Cardiff, RugbyHeaven
Thursday, 20 November 2008

All Blacks superstars Dan Carter and Richie McCaw say they are carrying no emotional baggage as they get set to re-enter the scene of their biggest disappointment this weekend.

The All Blacks return to Millennium Stadium to play Wales on the third leg of their Grand Slam quest on Sunday (NZ time). Just over a year ago they trudged off the impressive park with their World Cup dreams shattered, having been beaten by a fired-up French side in the quarter-finals.

Carter said for him it was more a matter of focusing on the good times he had enjoyed in Cardiff rather than getting bogged down by the World Cup disaster.

"You do have memories of certain stadiums depending on what happened," he admitted."As tough as it was last year I probably have more fond memories of playing here at Millennium. I have had a couple of good victories here. Saturday night is a completely new challenge and one I'm really looking forward to."

The All Blacks have played Wales four times at Millennium Stadium since 2002, winning all four matches. Carter and McCaw have been involved in the last three, scraping by 26-25 in 2004, winning handsomely 41-3 the following year and then in 2006 trouncing the men in red again 45-10.

When the matter of revisiting the scene of the World Cup crime was raised with McCaw he said he hadn't even thought about it and he hoped it didn't play on his players' minds either.

He also preferred to look back at the game the All Blacks played here in 2005 when they swept to a Grand Slam.
"It's totally different teams and different competition. Personally it was a while ago and we have to just focus on what we are doing here ... playing Wales," said McCaw."We will look back two or three years ago when things were a bit better."

The All Blacks have an impressive winning ratio against Wales with 20 victories and just three losses, the last defeat coming way back in 1953.

With Wales being Six Nations champions and blossoming under the guidance of their New Zealand coach Warren Gatland, the All Blacks are certainly bracing for a tough battle.

And that will come off the field as well as on it with Millennium Stadium again sold out and a crowd of more than 74,000 set to pack the place to the rafters. The All Blacks have been involved in three hugely emotional fixtures in Britain and Ireland on this tour, especially over the past week when they played in front of 82,000 people in Dublin and then the passionate 26,000 who were at Thomond Park in Limerick for the match against Munster.

McCaw sat in the stands watching the Munster match and couldn't help but be moved by what was going on around him. The midweek All Blacks had to overcome a fired-up Munster side and their vocal supporters, snatching a late 18-16 win.

McCaw said that was a timely reminder to the senior players watching what could lie ahead this weekend. The Welsh supporters are just as passionate and if the roof is closed on the Millennium Stadium, it becomes a real amphitheatre where the noise resonates to huge levels.

"That's what rugby and sport should be about – great atmospheres. We're just lucky that we got away with it on the right side of the scoreboard," he said of the Munster match. "Anyone who sat and watched really enjoyed it.A few (test) guys were sitting in the stand watching and it showed that it doesn't matter who you came up against you have to do everything right."

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