By Wynne Gray
Saturday Apr 17, 2010
Richie McCaw's return to openside flanker for today's game against the Cheetahs coincides with national coach Graham Henry's declaration that McCaw would also fill that role for the All Blacks.
"I think he is the best No 7 in the world and should stay there," Henry said as he kicked off his first media briefing of the season.
"But I think the roles of the three loosies have become more similar than they have in the past. So Richie could play six, eight or seven - he has that ability but I think in our team he will definitely play seven.
"I think you select the best players and they adapt to the rules, that's how I have always looked at it."
After missing the opening few matches in this year's Super 14, McCaw made his return from the bench wearing the No 19 uniform before playing the next five games in the No 6 jersey.
McCaw has played 80 tests usually in the No 7 role but the changes in law interpretations this season and his continued appearance in a changed strip raised the prospect of a new international position for the All Black captain.
"The loose forward roles have become similar so perhaps the straight out 7's role at the tackle is not as important as in the past," Henry suggested. "The roles have merged a bit and McCaw is finding it interesting to cater for that."
Those comments hinted at the All Blacks pursuing an altered role for McCaw, but when questioned later, Henry torpedoed that concept.
Even with long-term fullback Mils Muliaina injured, Henry felt there was depth in choices for the back three, there was strength in the loose forwards, progress from the front-rowers especially the Crusaders and there were two experienced hookers who were leaders.
They wanted backup for Daniel Carter at first five-eighths, they had been hit by lengthy injuries to a number of locks and there was a log jam of halfbacks without any standing out.
Henry said there would be new caps among the 26-strong group to start the June internationals but not many.
This year was about consolidating from last season and if there were a few fringe squad members who also qualified for the Maori team, they would be released for those games.