October 2, 2009
Rookie halfback made an impression on All Blacks skipper even if the Wallabies didn't give him sleepless nights, writes Rupert Guinness.
Richie McCaw sighs, then assumes the thinker pose as he racks his brain to come up with an answer to the question, ''Have any Wallabies stood out for you this year?''
The unease grows as the seconds pass. The question has, after all, been asked about players from a team that has underperformed badly and finished last in the Tri Nations after a woeful capitulation to the Kiwis in Wellington in their final Test.
McCaw keeps you on tenterhooks - as he probably does to All Blacks coach Graham Henry when he uses his free time to pursue his hobby of gliding, as he did this week in the skies above Omarama, a two-hour drive from Queenstown.
Then, just as you begin to think that perhaps not one single Wallaby left an impression on the All Blacks captain, his eyes come alight and he lifts his head up suddenly. Then as if he has found the winning answer on Who Want to be A Millionaire?, McCaw says with a smile:
''I'll tell you who I was quite impressed with, especially in the Test in Brisbane [against the Springboks] … was [Will] Genia at halfback.
''I thought he had a hell of a good game that night. He started to run with the ball and put the Africans under pressure through that. I had never heard much of him until I saw him playing for the Wallabies. He is one.''
While such lofty recognition is a boost for Genia, it also means he will be a marked man if he plays against the All Blacks in Tokyo at the start of next month's tour that includes a grand slam campaign.
McCaw, who was in Sydney to promote the October 29 premiere of the Sportstar Insider documentary series on Discovery Channel in which he appears, says the All Blacks are now all the wiser.
''I guess it does [help]. Through a couple of the Tests he has has started, you will be able to see what he does and how he does things,'' the 76-Test veteran says of the rookie Queensland halfback. ''Against the Africans in Brisbane, he had quite an influence in exploiting around the rucks.''
It might reassure those who doubt the Wallabies that McCaw's recollection of Genia's starting debut one week earlier in their one Tri Nations win triggered a few more positives.
One is his rating for David Pocock, the 21-year-old who was McCaw's opposite number in that Wellington Test. So highly does McCaw rate Pocock, he believes the Western Force No.7 will hold a mortgage on the position for many years to come.
Asked if he had noticed Pocock, the player who has kept Waratahs captain Phil Waugh out of the Wallabies 22 this season, McCaw says:
''Probably not so much at Test level, but certainly at Super 14 level over the last couple of years. Every time I have played him he has had big games. He is still a fairly young man, and I am sure he will get better and better. He is a physical character. I think he will be appearing for a while and plays some pretty good rugby.''
McCaw had expected the Wallabies to be beaming with confidence in Wellington after defeating the Springboks. But looking back, he sees that self-confidence was lacking in both sides.
''It was probably the most pressure on the All Blacks for a long time,'' McCaw says. ''I thought, after the Brisbane Test, [the Wallabies] would think, 'We are back on track.' But we were certainly eager to play well. From our point of view, perhaps our confidence was down a little.
''I know there has been talk they didn't stand up. It was still a tough Test. It was only in the last minutes that we got away and the score blew out. They were attacking our line 10 to 12 minutes to go. A try would have got them back in the game. By the end, I was absolutely knackered. We were pretty desperate. We had been under the cosh as well. Both teams struggled for confidence.''
McCaw, captain since 2006, was left searching for the leadership spark he felt he had lost.
''I didn't feel like I was performing as well as I should have in the Tri Nations,'' McCaw says. ''But if you start doubting what we are trying to do, and the guys look around at those who have been around are doubting it, it's not going to help. Sometimes you think, 'Geez, what do I need to do to get this sorted?' But you come back to say, 'OK, there are things you know you can do and if I address these, it can work.' That helps a hell of a lot, having been around and having confidence you can do it.''
McCAW IN HIS OWN WORDS...
''Flying is something I love. My father was a glider pilot when I was young. I was always around them and loved it. I was 10 when I first went with the old man. We did loops. I have always been into aeroplanes. The first thing I did was get my licence and then moved on to gliders. The reason I was keen to be on the show [Sportstar Insider, to be shown on the Discovery Channel on October 29] is because it is a sport I love and am passionate about. I thought, what a great opportunity to show people the sport of gliding and the special scenery in New Zealand. I jumped at the chance to do it and show people what else I do.''
Have the Springboks peaked early?
''That is what we got accused of for the last bloody three years! It's hard to the know. I hope that is the case. What we are seeing [based on this time before] the previous World Cup - we saw where were at, the Springboks were at and the Wallabies were at - is that come two years time it is totally different. You would never have picked the way it would end. One year is a long time. A lot of things change. I don't the think too much can be written into what's happening now.''
''We have been pretty lucky in the All Blacks having a good bunch of senior guys that are probably all capable of leading. I look at younger guys coming up. A guy who springs to mind is Kieran Read. He is a hell of a good player and is going to have a lot of time in the All Blacks. He is the type of guy who has the qualities. You don't want to put pressure on him straight away. He has only been there a year and has quite a senior role. He has really good rugby nous.''
Brad Thorn make you think about league?
''No, never thought about it, to be honest. I don't know whether I would be any good at it. It was never something that came across my radar. My dream has always been to play for the All Blacks. I must say I have admired Brad and have been interested in what are the differences and how league compared to union. He said the time he had in league was good, but when he needed a new challenge it was obviously him being an All Black. You have to take the hat off to the guy.''
Leading the haka
''The guys who usually lead it were not there. I've also been fairly involved with how the new one came about. I led it once in 2006 and was one of the only guys who had done it before. It's a privilege. You still have to get your mind ready to play rugby. Sometimes it goes the other way and you go over the top. It's something all Kiwis are proud of, if you have Maori background or not. I think it's a significant thing in world rugby. We're just the lucky guys who get to do it.''
''A few years ago we were training in a small rural town. It was a public session and some woman stripped off and had 'Marry me, Richie' [written on her chest] and ran across the training field. But I wasn't there. I was injured and meant to be there but arrived late because I was seeing a doctor. It was on the news. It was a public training session and hundreds of people were there. I arrived just after it happened and wondered what all the fuss was about!'' **
Playing in France
''I would love to live over there, but it's pretty hard yakka playing rugby there. If I am leaving New Zealand, it probably means the body is getting to the end or they are telling me to move on. I would love to experience France.''
Possible v Probable Wallabies
''You can understand why they want to have it, but you can understand the players' side as well. I am involved with the players' union at home and I can understand that if another game gets thrown in, there would be questions asked.''
**but who was it?? I'm curious... Email me!!! Mary*L
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