By HAMISH BIDWELL - The Press
Remarkable as it sounds, Saturday night will be the first time All Blacks captain Richie McCaw has challenged for the Ranfurly Shield.
Now in his tenth season as a Canterbury player, the 28-year-old has managed just 31 appearances for the red-and-blacks in that time.
"I've played in a lot of defences. I don't know how many maybe 10 or so but never had the chance to challenge for it, so I guess that's something a bit unique," he said after Canterbury's pool session yesterday.
The match against Wellington at Westpac Stadium was one McCaw had targetted for some time.
"For the mere fact that this whole year has been stop-start and I was just feeling like after the injuries I've had that I was starting to get some momentum from playing.
"If I didn't get to play one of these weeks [between Saturday's test against the Wallabies and South Africa on September 12] I would've had one game [for the All Blacks] in five weeks and that's like being out injured again."
The other motivator was that it was the Shield.
"People say it would be nice to see it moving round a bit, but it would be a bit ho-hum if everyone had a crack at [holding] it. When it's so rare, you put everything into it when you get the chance."
McCaw was one of several All Blacks made available by team management for one match between now and the Springboks test in Hamilton, meaning if he plays on Saturday he will not be around for Canterbury's away match against Bay of Plenty on September 5.
Canterbury coach Rob Penney would not confirm that McCaw would picked to play Wellington, saying it would be 48 hours before they could be sure he had come through last Saturday's 19-18 win over the Wallabies in one piece.
McCaw, though, was more confident.
"Apart from the general soreness, I got through it pretty good," he said."It's nice being here on a Monday, having had a win. The whole thing was just a relief, because I think we got a few things sorted. It still wasn't the prettiest but to get across the line, sometimes that can help your confidence."
No-one was more pleased to see the All Blacks hang on and win than McCaw, who had given Australia a sniff by turning the ball over in the final seconds.
"I was just making it interesting," McCaw said with a grin.