By DANIEL GILHOOLY
July 31st, 2009
On the same ground where Richie McCaw once brought a drunk South African rugby supporter into line, expectant eyes turn again to the All Blacks captain this weekend.
There was a widespread belief that New Zealand's best forward this decade would hit the ground ruBy his own admission, he hasn't.A rusty outing in the six-point defeat of the Wallabies in Auckland was followed by improvement in the nine-point loss to South Africa in Bloemfontein last weekend.
The test at Durban on Sunday morning (NZ time) is another chance to get the timing and handling of old further into synch.nning when he returned from a two-month injury break for the Tri-Nations.
"To expect to come back in and carry on where you left off, it doesn't happen like that," McCaw said."I know that last week, in places, I was better than the week before. You've got to be careful you don't keep trying harder."
There is little wrong with the McCaw aggression quota, which has been part of his game since the early stages of his career. That includes the 2002 test here where he was first to react when boorish home supporter Pieter van Zyl invaded the field to attack Irish referee David McHugh.McCaw wrestled Van Zyl to the ABSA Stadium turf before McHugh was stretchered off with a dislocated shoulder.
Forward coach Steve Hansen said McCaw and No 8 Rodney So'oialo had shown better signs every week since joining the squad following the June home tests.
"It's a big ask to come back and be out for the period they were out for. In Richie's case, he hasn't played much rugby at all," Hansen said."I think he's coming to it, he's been training well, Rodney's a lot sharper this week too."
The test will see both players will reach multiple milestones.McCaw will match the 44 offshore tests played by another former captain, Sean Fitzpatrick, which is an All Blacks record.The advent of the World Cup means the modern All Blacks play more tests overseas while McCaw's injury absences have often coincided with home tests.He has played just 29 of his tests on home soil, where hooking great Fitzpatrick played 48.
So'oialo will climb level with the 58 caps of former No 8 Zinzan Brooke, although Brooke still holds the New Zealand record for most tests in that position -- 52 to the 48 So'oialo will reach.Both players will be part of the most experienced loose trio in All Blacks test history.The 148 caps they share with flanker Jerome Kaino sneaks them ahead of the 145 that they combined to form with Jerry Collins in the World Cup quarterfinal loss to France two years ago.This weekend will also see fullback Mils Muliaina, who turns 29 today, join the retired Tana Umaga as the most capped All Blacks outside back on 74 tests.