Thursday, November 13, 2008

McCaw's form stirs Irish rival - 13/11/2008

Ireland's David Wallace enters his duel with peerless All Blacks openside flanker Richie McCaw on Saturday accepting he must shackle a master of his craft. But while Wallace insists McCaw's brilliance only becomes truly apparent upon forensic scrutiny, he hopes the New Zealand skipper will also learn from Ireland's back row. Preventing McCaw from setting the tempo of Saturday's clash is crucial if the All Blacks' designs on a European Grand Slam are to be destroyed at Croke Park. Wallace has pored over tapes of McCaw in action to prepare for his fifth meeting against a shrewd technician widely regarded as the sport's most influential player. The Munster back row is an unashamed admirer of the 27-year-old but hopes his own style will leave an impression on the All Black.

"As the game has evolved, so have McCaw's techniques. You can see him doing different things now that he didn't do before," he said."You have to be on your toes to counteract everything he does. As an openside, he's the best in the world. It's said he sometimes plays from an offside position, but I don't agree with that. He just has little tricks up his sleeve - things that you might not even see unless you watch them several times over on the video. As players we all try to learn from each other. Hopefully, he'll be looking at us to learn a few things as well."

The contest will match opensides of contrasting styles - McCaw the master forager, who is unrivalled at the breakdown, and Wallace, a destructive ball-carrier.
"It's great when you come up against someone like McCaw because it puts you on full alert. You're not going to be complacent," he said."You just have to make sure you're dominant at the breakdown. Any chink in our armour will be exploited and if we're not switched on, they will cause problems. Richie has such a wide range of talents and skills. Most things he does very well but he's prolific at robbing the ball or slowing it down. He's also brilliant at working off the backs and is a superb link man. His speed to the breakdown is great and he has superb technique when he gets there."

Should Wallace make an impression on McCaw, Ireland will have taken a major step towards ending its century-long wait for a victory over New Zealand. The All Blacks are fielding their strongest side - directed by Dan Carter at first five-eighths and containing 618 caps - and will start the 22nd meeting between the rivals as overwhelming favourite. But encouragement can be drawn from the last three Tests, which saw Ireland succumbing narrowly after putting themselves in a winning position on each occasion.

"The last few times we've been down to New Zealand we've got close," said Wallace, who has lined up opposite McCaw in all three matches."Croke Park will be a great place to play and to try and get our first win, but we're under no illusions as to how hard it will be. We've beaten Australia and South Africa over the last few years but New Zealand have managed to escape us. It does feel like we're edging closer to them bit by bit but you have to be careful not to become complacent. They played us here a few years ago and put up a big score. That brings home the reality of how good they are. We still need that fear to make us play that little bit better."

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