Friday, June 18, 2010


There has been no bluster, no bravado from the Welsh this week ahead of the first of two cracks at the All Blacks. And that has Richie McCaw just a little worried.
As the All Blacks captain spoke to the media following Friday's Captain's Run at Carisbrook, he was asked about the lack of verbal jousts coming from the Welsh camp this week ahead of Saturday night's historic test bringing the curtain down on the Dunedin ground as a test venue.

Given that this is a Warren Gatland team they're facing, and the Kiwi is rather renowned for using the media in the buildup to play a few mind games, it's been noticeable that the Welsh have been playing with rather a straight bat ahead of this test.

No suggestions of lost auras, no accusations of questionable tactics, favourable treatment, no brave predictions that this is going to be the one, when a 57-year run of All Black defeats is going to come to an end. Instead just respect, determination and acknowledgement that it's a massive task they face.
So, what has McCaw made of that?

"We don't usually take too much notice of that sort of stuff," shrugged the skipper. "Sometimes teams just come and put a performance out on the field and say nothing. They're the ones who perform best. If you read anything into it, they're obviously ready to play. We've got to make sure we are too."

It's a valid point from McCaw. The Welsh may be missing a key bod or two - top performers like James Hook, Shane Williams, Martyn Williams and Gethin Jenkins especially - but the quiet determination they've exhibited since their arrival suggests they're steeled for the task.
McCaw says his men are anticipating a tough challenge - certainly more testing that the ill-disciplined Irish could muster.

"They always play with a fair bit of passion and it's always a physical challenge against them. I've always enjoyed the matches we've had and they've never been easy," he said.

As far as the Carisbrook factor - and the end of 102 years of test rugby at the iconic ground - McCaw said it had been something his men had looked to embrace this week.

"It's the last time we probably get to play here, and there's a bit of significance in the history that's gone on. But you can't make it a huge deal. It's a game we've got to go out and perform on a rugby field."

McCaw admitted he didn't know a lot about his opposite number, Dragons flanker Gavin Thomas, though had received a bit of 'intel' from the Kiwi contingent playing in Wales.
But his suggestion that the Welsh No 7 was a "young fella" with "some ability" contrasted with Gatland's description of his new loosie as "an experienced flanker who knows all about what it takes to perform at international level".

The All Black captain said he's expecting an open game - conditions permitting - as Wales had pretty much nailed their colours to that mast and the key for the All Blacks was to try to limit their opponents' opportunities while maximising their own.

McCaw wasn't too bothered by the four tries allowed last week against Ireland, describing them as "extenuating" circumstances.

Then he was asked about whether there remained any residual fedeling around the great 2008 haka standoff at the Millennium Stadium.

If you recall the Welsh team indulged in a stare-down with the All Blacks which lasted what seemed an age before an anxious referee was finally able to persuade the two groups to disperse.
But McCaw's response suggested no affront was taken, then or since.

"I think what happened in '08 was actually pretty good. It certainly upped the ante right from the word go. [But] the guys haven't talked too much about it."

McCaw said the All Blacks would stand their ground if the Welsh were similarly staunch tomorrow night

"You've got to start at some point and you don't want to get silly about it. [But] I guess anything to get everyone excited and the crowd certainly got into it that day."

Which brings us to the All Blacks' kapa o pango haka. It hasn't been seen for the best part of a couple of years, but might it be unleashed on this historic occasion?

"We've been working on it," said McCaw with a hint of a smile. "You'll have to wait and see."

Should be fun. The rugby too.

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