By MARC HINTON - Stuff.co.nz - 7 August 2009 (Photo: Photosport)
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw has confirmed he's an unlikely starter for Canterbury prior to the Sydney Bledisloe as he looks to shake off a nerve problem in his neck ahead of the make-or-break Tri-Nations matchup.
And the world-class openside in an interview today on Radio Sport has refused to budge on his stance that his side did not get it badly wrong tactically in Durban, saying he thought the New Zealanders' approach to the game had been "spot on".
McCaw picked up some nerve damage out of the opening defeat to the Springboks in Bloemfontein, played through it in the second loss in Durban, but is now looking to clear the issue up ahead of the August 22 showdown against the Wallabies in Sydney.
The All Blacks have to win that match to keep alive any hopes of retaining the Tri-Nations title, and also to avoid a third consecutive test defeat and fourth this season.
McCaw told Radio Sport today that the neck problem had given him "a bit of grief" in South Africa and he was concentrating on getting that right before he even contemplated a rare provincial outing.
"It's quite important I get that right, so that's the reason I'm not playing this weekend and may not be playing next."
The All Blacks skipper, though, remained steadfast that there was no confusion about the game-plan in Durban, where the New Zealanders were guilty of trying to play too much rugby deep in their own half.
The Boks feasted on All Blacks errors and built their score steadily as they ran away to a convincing 31-19 victory.
"A couple of times, especially early on when were up by a few points, there were opportunities to have a go and, had we taken them, opportunities to score. Had that happened it might have changed the game," he said.
"I guess if you look at risk versus reward, maybe it wasn't quite right early in the game, and maybe it was something to do as the game goes on. That's something we've got to learn.
"We were pinned down, and we had to work out ways of getting going. That's something over the next week of so we'll be thinking about. But in terms of the way we approached the game I thought we had that reasonably spot on."
McCaw conceded "we tried to play too much rugby in our own half" and that the All Blacks' skills had let them down. "It's not an excuse, because you expect them to be better. We've got to figure out why that's happening and make sure it doesn't happen again.
"There were definitely opportunities we didn't take just through simple errors. So some of the decisions we made were actually good, it's just a case of executing. That comes down to guys just making sure we get that right."
McCaw did admit the lineout struggles were a major concern, and also a source of much of the pressure that was being applied to his side.
"When you don't get any lineout ball, it's hard to get a platform to get some field position," he told the station's breakfast host.
"So the ball we were getting we were getting in our own half. We wanted to play the game and move their big fellows around, but it didn't work like that because we were making mistakes and not getting good enough set-piece ball."
The All Blacks' defence and attitude had remained strong, despite the succession of errors, and McCaw said that was a positive that had to be built on.
"We've got to transfer that physical edge to when we get the ball and be ruthless with our execution. That was certainly something we talked about after Bloemfontein, but it didn't happen. That's going to be a key emphasis over the next week or so leading into the next test."
McCaw remained adamant it wasn't all doom and gloom for the All Blacks and that the slide was correctible.
"It's little things across the board causing us grief and if we can sort them out we've got to keep the belief we've got the right players… we're bitterly disappointed, more so than anyone. The guys understand what we did at the weekend wasn't good enough. I know they're all going to be pretty determined to get that sorted."
The All Blacks will get back together next week for another of their mini training camps, then reassemble on the Sunday prior to the Bledisloe when they will travel directly to Sydney.
McCaw wasn't sure whether his long-time team-mate Dan Carter would be called up for that trip, but joined the chorus urging caution with the gifted playmaker on the comeback trail from Achilles tendon surgery.
"You don't want to rush a guy just coming back himself and expect him to change where you're at," he said.
"If he's ready, he's ready, and if not we've just got to accept that and get on with it.
"You don't want to put a guy under unnecessary [pressure] if he's not ready. Stephen Donald is playing some reasonable rugby, we're just not giving him good enough service. Everyone's to blame, not just one guy.
"If we wait till the test matches at home in another four or five weeks of rugby, I'm sure he'll be better for that too."