Nov 24 2010
by Gareth Griffiths, Western Mail
HE is regarded by many as the finest flanker to have played rugby union.
Others believe he is a breakdown cheat who is never penalised by referees.
But there is no doubt New Zealand captain Richie McCaw has made the coveted All Blacks No 7 jersey his own over the last decade.
This is a shirt that is held in as high esteem in the Land of the Long White Cloud as the No 10 is in Wales.
But Wales have their own vintage openside in Martyn Williams, who is closing in on 100 caps for his country.
Williams is set to make his 98th Test appearance for Wales on Saturday when he renews his rivalry with All Blacks captain McCaw.
“It is a pretty special achievement he is getting close to and he deserves it,” said McCaw.
“Martyn has been around a long time and has a lot of experience.
“He is a pretty good player and works well when he gets his hands on the ball.
“If the Welsh guys give him momentum, then that is when he comes into his own.
“I have always had a good challenge against him and he is a hell of a nice guy too.
“I always enjoy my challenges with Martyn and I am sure Saturday will be another one.”
McCaw also finds one of his teammates chasing a milestone on Saturday as fly-half Dan Carter looks to break Jonny Wilkinson’s world points record.
Carter notched up 18 points in last weekend’s 38-18 win over Ireland, leaving him three points shy of the record.
McCaw denied Carter the chance to achieve his milestone in Dublin after turning down four second-half kicks at goal in favour of scrums.
“Dan obviously knew how many points he was on because I had no idea, I wasn’t thinking like that,” added McCaw.
“He said to me afterwards, ‘Jeez, if you’d given me that I would have got the record.’
“I thought, ‘Oh well, next week!’
“I don’t know if I’d have done it any differently if I’d known.
“The difference between a 15 and 18-point lead isn’t much, so I thought we’d put the pressure on.
“But now I understand why he was asking for the shot at goal!”
McCaw, Carter and co have arrived in Cardiff on the back of successive November victories over England, Scotland and Ireland, while Wales are in turmoil after their dismal draw against Fiji.
But McCaw believes New Zealand will face a backlash from Warren Gatland’s men this weekend.
“The Welsh are like the Kiwis because they are pretty passionate about rugby and get very excited when things go right and wrong,” added McCaw.
“If you look at our game last week, the Irish were in a pretty similar situation because they were getting some stick after a poor performance against Samoa.
“You saw the Irish were a different team to how they played against Samoa and I expect the Welsh to be exactly the same after the Fiji game.
“We have seen that in the past and the Fiji draw has probably hardened the Welsh resolve.
“It is never easy against Wales in Cardiff, it is always a physical challenge.”
But McCaw insisted the prospect of a third northern hemisphere Grand Slam in five years will galvanise the All Blacks and protect them from fatigue.
“We have the chance of a Grand Slam now and that is exciting,” added McCaw.
“The boys are motivated for the game and are pretty keen to get the job done.
“To go through unbeaten in Europe is something I am pretty keen to achieve again.
“We have done it before, but it still means as much to me because it is not easy.
“We have given ourselves a chance and the people who have not done it before are pretty excited, along with the guys who have.
“Not many teams do it and on previous occasions we have had to play pretty well to get there.
“Achieving Grand Slams are not easy because you have got to get yourself up every week for a month to perform.
“The boys are OK considering we have been away for a month now and had four games in four weeks.
“We benefited from the fact a few of us had a bit of a break before we came over here and that is paying off now.”
And McCaw insisted the Millennium Stadium, where he first captained the All Blacks in 2004, inspired New Zealand sides rather than intimidated them.
“I love playing here in Cardiff and it is a pretty cool stadium,” he added.
“One occasion that probably sticks out is 2004 when I was first captain.
“It was a pretty tough day and it was quite tight towards the end.”
And, if New Zealand lack motivation, Wales will be aghast to hear comments from Australian coach Robbie Deans that should serve to fire up the Kiwis.
Deans was quoted as saying that New Zealanders don’t scrummage, rather they prosper in that area through clever tactics.
Wales would have been hoping they could dominate this area against the All Blacks, but they will now face a motivated Kiwi trio in the Welsh capital out to prove Deans wrong.
“I am surprised by Robbie’s comments and not sure why he has said it.” added McCaw.
“It will probably motivate the boys when we face Australia because props have long memories and will probably tuck it away somewhere.
“Over the last few years we have put a lot of work into this part of the game in a bid to be the best in the world.
“The scrum is an important weapon in this part of the world.
“We scrummaged well against Ireland last week and did not get the rewards we wanted.
“Wales have always been pretty good in this areas, so it should be fine.
“Wales are historically a team who want to scrummage and when that happens it has always been a good contest.”