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McCaw looking forward to Barbarians debut
Graham Jenkins
September 20, 2008

Fresh from leading the All Blacks to Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup glory, Richie McCaw made a flying visit to London this week to accept an invitation to play for the Barbarians.

The New Zealand skipper is the latest big name to join the Baa-baas ranks for the mouth-watering clash with the Wallabies at Wembley Stadium on 3 December. The match will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1908 Olympic Games in London where Australia won the gold medal with a 32-3 victory over Great Britain at the White City Stadium.

The historic clash, that will also mark the 60th anniversary of the first clash between the two sides, could well see the best ever Barbarians side assembled with the likes of Schalk Burger, Bryan Habana, John Smit, Joe Rokocoko, Carl Hayman, Jerry Collins and Steve Borthwick amongst those already confirmed for the match.

Add the fact that the side will be coached by World Cup winner Jake White and the tourists and fans alike can rest assured that it will be a great contest not to be missed.

OK. So there is very little coaching involved, maybe more coaxing of players away from bars, but I think you'll agree that the cast and stage will make for a fine alternative to any pantomime come the festive season.

And the entertainment factor is one that appeals to the talismanic McCaw.

"For all international players, it's something that you're keen to do in your career, and the chance of playing at Wembley is not something that comes around that often," said the 27-year-old.

The opportunity to pack down with the likes of Burger and Borthwick rather than batter them also had an appeal.

"I think from the players point of view there's a couple of things," said McCaw. "First of all there guys who you battle with in international rugby who all of a sudden you get to play alongside and this is the only opportunity you get to do that.

"And last year the team that came together and played against the World Cup champions, perhaps not at their best, but they came out and played some good rugby. I think it's fun, I don't think you've got the pressure of playing for your country, you can go out and have some fun with some very good rugby players."

McCaw, arguably the world's best player, was making his first visit to Wembley and admitted to being "blown away" by the stadium and the chance to run out onto the field later this year.

But this two-week respite will soon make way for another gruelling tour that will see the All Blacks take on Australia in Hong Kong before tackling all the Home Nations and Munster before bringing an end to his year with his first Barbarians appearance.

"It's going to be busy but I think it'll be exciting too," said McCaw. "We've got the first Test against Australia in Hong Kong which I think will be unique challenge and then we've got the four Home Nations and they all provide different challenges.

"I just think of all the stadiums we get to play at, for the Kiwi boys that really brings some excitement, and I'm sure the guys are looking forward to it. It's going to be tough but it'll be satisfying if we do well."

The tour will include a re-match with England who were put to the sword in the summer but McCaw thinks new manager Martin Johnson and the Twickenham crowd will inspire improvement from the hosts.

''When he played he went out and produced it first and foremost himself and he wasn't afraid to grab other guys to come along with him. If they weren't pulling their weight he made that known. You can only do that if you're doing it yourself and that's what he always did.

"'When you played him you always knew the English team were going to be pretty good so I'm sure they will be a hugely different team from the one we played Down Under in June,'' said McCaw.

It may surprise some how grounded McCaw is, and how normal this star of the game appears. Such is his reputation for excellence and his standing on the world stage you would expect some kind of entourage but no. In a room full of media types and dressed in jeans and a T-shirt you would be hard pressed to pick out the celebrity.

But to many he is not normal - far from it when it comes to rugby. Yet another Super 14 success with the Crusaders in May was followed by Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup glory to ease the pain of that Rugby World Cup quarter-final exit at the hands of France.

"Obviously after the disappointment of last year, there was a lot of negativity with rugby in New Zealand with the bits and pieces you may be aware of. So when the team came together we really wanted to ensure we did it right.

"We had some new players and had to do it really right. We had two losses in a row and the guys bounced back from that to actually get out on top of two pretty good sides was satisfying, it shows how much it means. I guess it's gone some way to alleviate some of the pain from last year."

Of those 'new players' McCaw picked out Jerome Kaino and Richard Kahui for special praise.

"I think someone who has got huge potential is Jerome Kaino. He's a big man but pretty athletic and I think if you saw the game against Australia, the final game, the hits he was putting in, was pretty inspiring. So he's one I've been hugely impressed by.

"The other one is Richard Kahui who's been playing on the wing but he is more of a centre and that shows his adaptability, he's a big man aswell but with a lot of skill. Those are two I would keep an eye on I guess. And they're great men to have in the team."

McCaw's trip will also see him take in the popular TV show Strictly Come Dancing on Saturday night where his girlfriend Hayley Bolt will be amongst those on show. But rest assured there will be no light-entertainment the next time McCaw graces these shores.

As for the latest high-profile Barbarians clash - club president Mickey Steele-Bodger is delighted that the select side still has a place in the modern game and still manages to attract the big names.

"I think it is a marvellous line up and very flattering for the club," he commented on the players already confirmed for the clash. "I'm much gratified that people want to come and still want to come. Not only the once to become a Barbarian but they want to come again. I'm delighted."

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