'We want him on the park'
By MARC HINTON - Rugbyheaven
'We want him on the park'
By MARC HINTON - Rugbyheaven
The All Blacks coaches are confident they can get 80 minutes out of skipper Richie McCaw on Saturday night – so much so that they haven't bothered with a specialist backup option on the bench.
McCaw, who's finally over a knee injury that he picked up in the Super 14 semifinals back in May, makes a welcome first test appearance of the year in his customary No 7 jersey for the Tri-Nations opener against the Wallabies at Eden Park.
Normally when McCaw plays, he goes the whole way, and the All Blacks coaches have become comfortable enough with that scenario that they habitually don't bother carrying another No 7 on the bench.
That's been the case again this week, with Kieran Read providing the loose forward cover and Rodney So'oialo designated to step in for McCaw should the skipper go down.
All Blacks forwards coach Steve Hansen says he's confident McCaw can go the full 80 in what will be his 71st test and 200th first-class match. Even with so much recent time off.
"He's trained well and he's had a couple of games he played Thursday and again on Saturday," said Hansen.
"He's confident he can go the 80 and I'm confident he's got the mental aptitude to do that as well.
"He's done it before, he's our leader and we want him on the park."
The return of McCaw and So'oialo (as well as Sitiveni Sivivatu to provide the backline X-factor), and their combined 125 test caps, is the main reason many believe the All Blacks will take their game to a level they weren't able to touch in an unimpressive Iveco Series.
Hansen is certainly banking on it.
"They're world-class players and there's a lot of experience there with that experience comes accuracy in the tasks they've got to do."
The All Blacks forwards coach wasn't worried by the looming presence of two opensides on the Wallabies bench, and the clear intention to take the All Blacks on at the breakdown.
"We're going to play a reasonably fast game ourselves," shrugged Hansen. "There is a risk, but I guess it's a risk taking two short ones as well. You throw the ball in the air and play the game you want to play."
It will be a notable night, too, for Jason Eaton who ends a three-year test exile to leapfrog Bryn Evans and take a spot on the bench as lock cover.
"He had a horrific injury and it's taken him a while to come back to the form he showed in 2006," said Hansen. "He gives us a little bit of extra cover too in that he can play loose forward or lock."
Ad Feedback Hansen cited experience as a factor in Eaton's inclusion, but that certainly didn't apply to the decision to go for young Cantab Owen Franks ahead of John Afoa as the bench prop. Franks has played in just one test, against Italy last month.
"We really liked what we saw from Owen in the Italy game coming off the bench," said Hansen. "He's very physical, he's a forthright individual and doesn't take too many backward steps. We just want to see more of him."
Hansen said Afoa had been asked to "upskill" himself so he could play both sides of the scrum a move he hinted all promising props would be wise to look at.
"There are some good young props coming through, and looking at the situation not many guys can do both sides," said Hansen. "It would be quite a smart move I would have thought."
Tialata fills that role principally for the All Blacks, starting at tighthead but able to switch sides if need be. That made him a valuable commodity in the team, said Hansen.
"They're a bit like hen's teeth - hard to find," said Hansen of the dual-purpose props.
He's confident that Tialata can shake off a pretty low-key Super 14 and a slow start to the test year and rise to the occasion of a Bledisloe on Saturday night.
"He's had a really good week and I've been really happy," said Hansen. "He's scrummed well, trained well and he's had a lot more intensity in his training. I think we'll get a good game out of him."
Though Tialata's Super 14 form (or lack of it) remained a "mystery", Hansen said there were no complaints about Tialata's performance at test level. He did concede the massive 127kg front-rower had to make sure he managed himself properly lest niggles undermine his performance.
In terms of the Australian forward challenge this weekend, Hansen said there would be no surprises when the battle unfolded.
"You expect what you always expect from them. They'll be really physical, they'll come at us and want to try to dominate us.
"It's going to be a really good contest as they always are. It doesn't matter what form anyone is in, when you play the derby game people get up for it."
NEW ZEALAND: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Jimmy Cowan; 8 Rodney So'oialo, 7 Richie McCaw (capt), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock. Reserves: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Jason Eaton, 19 Kieran Read, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Luke McAlister, 22 Joe Rokocoko.
AUSTRALIA: Adam Ashley-Cooper; Lachie Turner, Stirling Mortlock (c), Berrick Barnes, Drew Mitchell; Matt Giteau, Luke Burgess; Wycliff Palu, George Smith, Richard Brown, Nathan Sharpe, James Horwill, Al Baxter, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson. Reserves: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Ben Alexander, Dean Mumm, David Pocock, Phil Waugh, Will Genia, James O'Connor.