All Blacks out for revenge
August 2, 2008
Influential All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw returns in Auckland © Getty Images
The man for a crisis is back, with Richie McCaw's timely return coinciding with the All Blacks' coaching triumvirate candidly admitting their difficulties adapting to rugby's experimental law variations.
In a major boost to New Zealand's hopes of keeping their Tri-Nations title defence alive, inspirational captain McCaw was today named to start against Australia at Eden Park on Saturday night.
The flanker's return from an ankle injury is a blessed relief with coach Graham Henry confessing his coaching team had been tactically outwitted by Robbie Deans in Sydney last weekend.
Henry and his assistants Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith admitted they were struggling to get to grips with the nuances of the ELVs, having had just three tests to acclimatise.
Smith first put the onus on Henry declaring: "Frankly I think the coach (Henry) lost the tactical battle" before acknowledging his own shortcomings.
"We're all learning under the ELVs. I'm been out-coached before and I'll be out-coached again. We played too much behind our own gain line."
Henry, in the midst of one of the toughest weeks of his career, agreed saying it was the "biggest adjustment" for a coach to switch from one set of laws to another.
They had studied the ELVs during the Super 14 and sought the advice from Taranaki B coach Leo Crowley, whose side won their provincial competition under the new laws last season.
But there was no substitute for practical experience, something Deans has plenty of given he guided the Crusaders to a fifth Super rugby title in May.
"We've done a lot of work and a lot of research but we're finding out is there's a lot of subtleties that you just can't cover off," Smith said.
"You've got to learn those yourself."
Richard Kahui has been named as a surprise starter on the wing as the All Blacks remain unable to confirm their line-up for Saturday's match at Eden Park.
Kahui, who normally plays at centre, has been promoted from the bench to the right flank after Leon MacDonald's concussion issues forced him to withdraw from the starting 15 yesterday.
Mils Muliaina, initially named on the wing, reverts to fullback while All Blacks management have opted to put Kahui on the wing for the first time in his fledgling international career in favour of Anthony Tuitavake or Rudi Wulf.
Tuitavake has been added to the bench while Wulf has been released to play for North Harbour in this weekend's opening round of the Air NZ Cup.
The All Blacks were finally able to confirm their starting line-up on Friday - three days after the squad was originally named.
Several injuries conspired to delay the naming but head Henry cleared up the confusion at halfback and hooker by announcing Jimmy Cowan and Andrew Hore as members of the run-on side.
Cowan has overcome a knee injury to start for the first time this season while Piri Weepu, who was brought in as cover on Monday, will play off the bench for what will be his first test since falling out of favour during last year's Tri-Nations campaign.
Andy Ellis, who sustained injured ribs during the 19-34 loss to the Wallabies in Sydney last weekend, has dropped out of the squad.
Hore had been in doubt after bruising his hip when scoring the All Blacks second try against Australia at ANZ Stadium but is able to start. Keven Mealamu is back-up on the bench.
Adam Thomson has been named on the bench ahead of specialist openside Daniel Braid.
The All Blacks were forced to make the first change to their team yesterday, positioning centre Richard Kahui on the wing in a back three revamped after fullback Leon MacDonald was withdrawn after failing to overcome a head knock sustained against South Africa on July 12.
Regular fullback Mils Muliaina reverted to his usual position yesterday after initially being named on the right wing.
Both Muliaina and especially MacDonald will be empowered to kick for territory -- a ploy practically ignored when the All Blacks slumped to a 34-19 loss in Sydney.
Henry conceded his side's determination to run out of their territory was a major oversight.
"The kicking game has changed considerably, it's more of a kick-chase game," said Henry, who has realised an effective chase can force turnovers at the tackle.
McCaw's recovery from an ankle injury should at least provide some parity at the breakdown after the All Blacks have been dominated there during losses to the Wallabies and Springboks.
But there are concerns he will not last the match, understandable considering he has not played since the second test against England on June 21.
McCaw was bracketed last week with Daniel Braid before pulling out. A week later Braid has been named alongside Adam Thomson on the bench with the latter gaining the nod if medical staff feel McCaw can go the distance.
"He didn't take a full part in training but what he did he did well," said Henry before emphasising the importance of having his skipper back.
"It means a tremendous amount. He's a class act, he leads from the front, he's demanding of others."
The loose forward mix has undergone another change with stand-in captain Rodney So'oialo reverting to his normal position at No 8, ending the experiment of playing two fetchers.
Jerome Kaino, who has had mixed success at the back of the scrum, switches to the blindside flank where he was utilised by the Blues.
"The idea was to play two fetchers and a bigger guy at eight. Against some sides you can do that, against this side you can't," Hansen explained.
There should be no debate after All Blacks management marked the end of another innovation by predictably cutting butter-fingered impact forward Sione Lauaki from the 22.
Wallabies rugby coach Robbie Deans trumped the return of McCaw with his own dynamic loose forward duo as a brutal battle for possession looms in Auckland.
Deans confirmed Phil Waugh to replace injured flanker Rocky Elsom (foot) for the second Bledisloe Cup test, thereby reviving former coach John Connolly's ploy of partnering Waugh with fellow specialist openside George Smith.
There were just two changes to the starting 15 who beat the All Blacks 34-19 in Sydney, with captain and centre Stirling Mortlock returning from concussion and Ryan Cross shifting to the bench.
Hugh McMeniman, who was seen as a frontrunner to replace Elsom, takes Waugh's spot on the bench.
Deans said McCaw's return would clearly impact on their preparations.
"Obviously he is a player who's capable of impacting on a game, significantly if you allow him to. We'll attempt to deny him that sort of influence," Deans said.
"We need to be wise in the way we structure our attack, be accurate in the way we execute that attack because he'll prey on poor technique, whether it be in the carry or in the supporting roles.
"If you're inaccurate or flawed in your technique then he becomes like a rock in the river, an obstruction."
But Deans warned of putting too much emphasis on an opposition player.
He cited the example of the All Blacks' other key man, Dan Carter, who was excellent in a beaten side last week but restricted by the pressure on those around him.
"It's a bit like Dan Carter, sure they're great players and great athletes but you can't base your whole approach around individuals."
With Smith and Elsom leading the way, the Wallabies dominated a McCaw-less All Blacks at the breakdown in a high-octane Sydney test.
Waugh welcomed another chance to team up with Smith after he watched from the bench on Saturday.
"With Richie coming back New Zealand get a lot of strength from him as their leader and him performing well. I think it's certainly a far bigger challenge," Waugh said.
"With the ELVs (experimental law variations) there's maybe a few more opportunities and with good turnover ball you can turn it into attack."
Deans observed the All Blacks team announcement with interest, particularly the recall of his former Crusaders fullback Leon MacDonald and the shifting of Mils Muliaina to the wing.
It gave the All Blacks, in effect, three fullbacks, Deans said.
"That's an indicator of the way they'll approach the game, they'll probably bring a slightly more percentage approach.
"They'll look to return kicks with kicks and possibly contest a little bit more in the air.
"Leon's a very experienced player, he provides a lot of voice and he's a good organiser. He's very willing, so in a tight contest he's not too inhibited by the positional role."
Deans said the fact Eden Park was the All Blacks' fortress, where the Wallabies hadn't won in 22 years, would add to the hosts' more conservative approach.
New Zealand: Mils Muliaina, Richard Kahui, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Dan Carter, Jimmy Cowan, Rodney So'oialo, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Ali Williams, Brad Thorn, Greg Somerville, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: Keven Mealamu, John Afoa, Anthony Boric, Adam Thomson, Piri Weepu, Stephen Donald, Anthony Tuitavake.
Australia: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Peter Hynes, Stirling Mortlock (captain), Berrick Barnes, Lote Tuqiri, Matt Giteau, Luke Burgess, Wycliff Palu, George Smith, Phil Waugh, Nathan Sharpe, James Horwill, Al Baxter, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson.
Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Matt Dunning, Dan Vickerman, Hugh McMeniman, Sam Cordingley, Ryan Cross, Drew Mitchell.
Referee: M. Lawrence
Assistant Referees: C. Joubert, J. Bolabiu
TMO: S. Veldsman
Kick off: 19.35 (local) / 08.35 (BST)
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