James Mortimer - (9/06/2010)
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw is looking forward to another Irish test, while the first match day 22 of the year contains no specialist backup open side, but plenty of loose forward options.
McCaw will play his 81st test match against Ireland in New Plymouth this weekend, and his ninth against the Irish.The Crusaders open side has fond memories of playing Ireland, considering that in 2001 McCaw made his test debut in Dublin in 2001, en-route to a 40-29 win.While Ireland have never beaten the All Blacks, and under McCaw’s reign that proud record has continued, there have been some tough matches. While some tests have been horrendously one sided from an Irish perspective, notably in 2002 at Eden Park with a 40-8 win and in 2005 in Dublin with a 45-7 win, Ireland – who have had one of their strongest sides in history in recent years – have come close on numerous occasions.
The All Blacks scrapped their way to a 15-6 win in 2002 at Dunedin, and three tests on New Zealand soil between 2006 and 2008 saw Ireland come within at least a ten point margin.
“I've never had an easy one against them,” McCaw said.“It's always been a match where you have had to play well to get the result you wanted.”
“They are a physical side, especially up front. They have a lot of guys who have played a lot of tests together now and all it takes is a bit of belief to get a bit of momentum. They have had that and they will come here thinking that they can perform as well as they have done.”
“I don't think they will do too much different from what has worked for them in the past ... it will take a while to get on top.”
"Ireland are a team that we are going to have to perform against to win. I can see we have that attitude from the first few days of training which is great."
While McCaw’s personal duel with one of the great Irish opensides in David Wallace should be a treat, again the All Blacks have viewed the role of the back row as interchangeable.With no specialist openside on the bench, the All Blacks have confirmed that Kieran Read will cover if McCaw is injured, with Victor Vito to come off the bench to cover either number eight or blindside.
Vito’s emergence with the Hurricanes have given the All Blacks three class options at number six, with Jerome Kaino preferred to Adam Thomson. Equally at number eight Read is now recognised as the incumbent, but there is still the veteran Rodney So’oialo waiting in the wings.
Thomson and So’oialo, ironically both not in the playing 22, have featured at openside for the All Blacks in test matches.Two of McCaw’s previous understudies, in Tanerau Latimer and Scott Waldrom, will play for the New Zealand Maori and Barbarians sides respectively this weekend.Daniel Braid, exceptional for the Queensland Reds in the Rebel Sport Super 14, will return to New Zealand later this year.