Thursday Jun 17, 2010
Richie McCaw well remembers his first rugby test as All Blacks captain, against Wales nearly six years ago.
As Millennium Stadium roared and they sensed a first victory over the All Blacks since 1953, it occurred to a 23-year-old McCaw he might need to find a rock to crawl under.
"It was pretty tight. I wasn't thinking about it during the game, but maybe afterwards I thought it might be a bit nasty. A bit of relief, if I remember rightly," he said.
The All Blacks got up, 26-25, their closest recent scrape as they built a 57-year, 21-test winning streak against Wales heading into Saturday's first test here.
It will present two firsts for McCaw: captaining the All Blacks at Carisbrook after he missed the dual defeats here to South Africa in 2008 and France last year.
And he hasn't faced Wales on home soil as they arrive for their first New Zealand test in seven years, also their first and last test at Carisbrook which farewells test duty this year.
Wales haven't won in five tests in New Zealand, but in Cardiff there were recent struggles for the All Blacks, with the one-pointer in 2004, a 29-9 win in 2008 and a hard-fought 19-12 victory last year.
McCaw said Wales were a trickier side to face than Ireland, who were swept aside 66-28 last weekend as their No 8 Jamie Heaslip departed early on to a red card.
"In the northern hemisphere they were the ones who led the ability to really exploit space. I guess that's come from the influence of (coach) Steve Hansen and company coaching up there," McCaw said.
"I think they've got a better feel for that and they've been a bit more physical up front in the last couple of years, it's been a pretty good challenge so I think they'll be a sterner test there."
The Warren Gatland-coached Wales will reveal their team tonight as they arrive in Dunedin without frontliners Shane Williams, James Hook, Gethin Jenkins and Martyn Williams, a regular sparring partner for flanker McCaw.
The All Blacks skipper said he was happy with the new law interpretations which saw a faster test in New Plymouth and also less chance for breakdown foragers like McCaw to pinch turnovers.
"It's definitely a lot harder but I think the game's in not a bad spot. If you get teams isolated or a player isolated, there is an ability to do it (force turnovers). As long as there's a still a chance of a contest there I think it's not too bad. There weren't a lot of opportunities (on Saturday). It encourages guys to have a go more. You know you're going to look after it so there's counter attacking. Last year if you did that there was a 50-50 chance of losing it. Now it's a lot less than that and you're more inclined to have a go, so that exploits weaknesses here and there."
But McCaw was still wary of different refereeing interpretations after a reasonable start by England whistler Wayne Barnes in New Plymouth. That was borne from a few tangles with referees for the Crusaders in South Africa, notably Australian Stu Dickinson.
"It will fluctuate and each ref is a little bit different. In the Super 14 they went right to one extreme and they got a change of habit. In New Zealand they got guys making sure they get out (of the ruck) and try to be disciplined in that area. Some refs will let you away with a bit more than others and you've just got to read that."
By Mark Geenty