NZPA - (12/06/2010)
An edge created by the New Zealand rugby team's mixed Rebel Sport Super 14 seasons and intense competition for places is spurring the All Blacks ahead of their test season opener, captain Richie McCaw says.
After a largely disappointing Super 14 season for New Zealanders, the All Blacks class of 2010 have been together more than a week in preparation for the first of 14 tests this year against Ireland at Yarrow Stadium.Most of the 22-man squad haven't played top-level rugby for nearly four weeks, bar the Crusaders who were the only New Zealand side to make the playoffs before they were eliminated by the Bulls in the semifinals.McCaw sensed an excitement and energy in the past week as they look to avert last year's flat start to the year against France.
"We've got some pretty keen guys and what's happened during the Super 14 has probably added to that," McCaw said."All the Super 14 teams didn't reach the standard they were after so we almost start again. Guys who have been there a while are keen and the excitement of the new fellas, we're playing for our spots really and that's the sort of attitude we've got."
The 'new fellas' include debutants Ben Franks, Benson Stanley and Israel Dagg while three more new caps could be worn tonight from the bench: by Aaron Cruden, Victor Vito and Sam Whitelock.All were form players during Super 14 and have been rewarded to stake an early claim for World Cup spots.Owen Franks, Anthony Boric, Kieran Read, Cory Jane and benchmen Aled de Malmanche and Zac Guildford have fewer than 20 tests each to their names.
McCaw reiterated his view that no test against the Brian O'Driscoll-led Ireland was easy. He debuted against them in 2001 as the All Blacks snuck an 11-point victory, and Ireland's last three tests in New Zealand has seen home wins by 10, 10 and 11 points respectively.There was an experienced forward pack with a solid lineout but potential questions around the scrum, a dynamic loose forward trio led by No 8 Jamie Heaslip and strength out wide.
"They've got the ability with ball in hand, especially the outsides. If you give them space to counter attack they've got player who can hurt you," McCaw said."We saw that during the Six Nations. If they get good front foot ball they play a pretty good game."
O'Driscoll, who had dizzy spells today but was confident of being fit tonight, played in the freezing 21-11 defeat in arctic Wellington two years ago.Rain has soaked New Plymouth this week and a wet weather game could be in prospect again.The touring skipper knew his side weren't far away from an elusive victory, and rejected suggestions they would play a 10-man game based around Ronan O'Gara's boot.
"In the past we've put in good performances for 50 or 60 minutes and not for the full 80. Any time we've been in with a shout we've taken the foot off or New Zealand have put us under pressure for the last 20," O'Driscoll said."It's about playing a full 80 minute game and trying to play as much attacking rugby as possible."