By DUNCAN JOHNSTONE - Stuff
Richie McCaw was ready to pension off his aging coach yesterday but a quick look at Graham Henry's first test side of the season was more than enough for the All Blacks captain to realise there is plenty of work left for his boss.
Henry turned 64 in New Plymouth on the day he named a refreshing All Blacks side to play Ireland on Saturday night.
There is the potential for six new caps to debut at Yarrows Stadium. Fullback Israel Dagg, second five-eighths Benson Stanley and loosehead prop Ben Franks will start while fellow rookies Sam Whitelock, Victor Vito and Aaron Cruden wait on the bench.
Henry must be feeling generous in his old age.
"He got a wee chocolate birthday cake at lunchtime," McCaw laughed of Henry's personal milestone.
"We were actually told he was 65 but apparently they are a year ahead of themselves. It's retirement year next year."
Next year brings the World Cup to New Zealand and Henry laid down some of long-term plans with this selection.
Injuries have forced some changes but the inclusion of Dagg, Cruden and Vito signal the sort of attacking game the All Blacks are clearly keen to develop over the next 15 months.
Despite the new blood the All Blacks are able to field 555 test caps. McCaw likes the mix dished up by Henry.
"I'm pretty excited. When you look through the team there are a fair few guys that have played quite a bit of rugby along with the new fellows. I think we have quite a good mix to be honest," enthused McCaw who will play his 81st test
"From what I have seen in the first week we have had together is that the new guys have fitted in well but also the guys that have been around for a while have really done what they should do as senior All Blacks."
McCaw and Henry have asked a lot of their leadership group to help settle the new players into the test scene.
McCaw said the new faces could take confidence from their Super 14 efforts but this was a whole new ball game.
"It's just different ... the training, the leadup and what you do when you step out there on to the field," he explained.
"You watch to see how the players react and if they can make that step up and still play the game and show the skills that have got them here.
"You don't know until you get out there but us guys who have been around for a while, it's our job to make it as easy as possible for them. I think the older guys have worked hard at that."
McCaw felt Stanley and Dagg had slotted into the backline smoothly and, having spent a successful Crusaders season alongside the likes of Ben Franks and Sam Whitelock, McCaw had confidence in their ability to step up.
Franks is no stranger to the All Blacks, being on the 2008 Grand Slam tour where he played against Munster in the midweek match. Now he gets to start a test and will do so alongside his propping brother Owen.
"I was very impressed during the Super 14 with how they have gone and how far ahead of where they were even 12 months ago. I look at the performances at scrum time, they have done pretty well and they deserve their spots in there. I have no doubts they will go out and show why they have been picked," McCaw said.
"It's the same for Sam - he thoroughly deserves it. The four Whitelock brothers are all pretty exceptional with their work ethic and wanting to learn. I think you saw that with Sam when he got that starting spot towards the later part of the Super 14. The semifinal he played against the Bulls showed that he gets around the track and works hard for a tight forward.
"If he gets a chance, he will take it. You don't want to rush him because he's young but I have no doubts he will do it easy."