McCaw demands All Blacks raise the bar
July 8, 2010
All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw gets to grips with team-mate Kieran Read during training this week © Getty Images
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw has warned his side that they will have to be at their best against South Africa in their Tri-Nations opener on Saturday.
The world's top two nations kick off this year's tournament in Auckland, with McCaw demanding his players build on the foundation of their three victories over Ireland and Wales last month. The All Blacks inspirational flanker is also hoping that his side can make the most of the kind scheduling that has handed them two home fixtures in a row to start with, the second also against the Springboks in Wellington next week.
"We start off with two home games and we're up against a pretty good team and we're going to have to play our best," he said. "We've had a good start to the year but this is another step up and we have to make sure we take it as a team."
The Springboks, who were also unbeaten in their June encounters, go into the tournament as defending champions, having downed Australia 2-1 and whitewashed New Zealand 3-0 last year. McCaw said he would lying if he said there still wasn't any residual disappointment over the results from last season. "For those of us who were there, it's a bit frustrating," said the 29-year-old. "We didn't perform the way we would like and we want to be able to do that this week."
Key to that would be being able to exert pressure on the Springboks and taking all opportunities that came the All Blacks' way. "The reality of these games is that there aren't that many opportunities," McCaw said. "Every one you get, you have to take."
The starting 15s for both sides have huge experience. But when it comes to using the benches late in the contest, South African coach Peter de Villiers will have the more seasoned troops at his disposal. While halfback Piri Weepu (37) and midfield back Richard Kahui (10) are the most capped of the All Blacks reserves, all but one of the South African replacements - fullback/wing Gio Aplon - are into double figures in test appearances. Forward Danie Rossouw (48), and backs Ruan Pienaar (40) and Butch James (37) give the Springboks bench a particularly hardened look.
Skipper John Smit said de Villiers was fortunate with the options he had available, and it was a case of how he used them and whether other factors like injuries came into play. "He has players who can perhaps turn up the pace or give him a different feel," Smit said. "We have big Danie as a loosie, which means if he comes on, he could be quite a devastating ball carrier. Gio can pretty much slot in the back three, speed things up and have a crack from out wide as well. There's a big flavour in our reserves, but it depends entirely on what Peter wants to do."
While the latter stages of the 2011 World Cup will be based at Eden Park, both sides have played down any psychological significance that tomorrow night's result might have looking ahead to next year.
Smit, who was captain when the Springboks lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in 2007, said there was a long time to go before players started packing their bags for the World Cup. "What every guy realises is that it's going to be far more difficult to defend it than it was to win it," he said. "There's a lot of work to be done. If you said to me, does one win in Auckland in 2010 make that possible -- no. It does not make it possible, but it does help the journey though."