Monday, December 7, 2009

McCaw prepared for Six Nations 2010

Richie McCaw is all set to put his body on the line one last time in 2009 when he leads New Zealand against the Barbarians at Twickenham on Saturday.

Openside flanker McCaw and Cory Jane - back in his favoured position of full-back - are the only two survivors in from the All Black team that defeated France 39-12 with a sparkling display in Marseille last weekend.

But while the likes of gifted fly-half Dan Carter and Ma'a Nonu have been rested by coach Graham Henry, newly-crowned International Rugby Board (IRB) player of the year McCaw will captain the All Blacks against a star-studded Barbarians side.

An early season knee injury saw McCaw miss four of New Zealand's 14 Tests this year but the mental and physical strain of leading the world's number one ranked team on a six-week, and so far unbeaten, tour has started to take its toll on the loose forward, who turns 29 on December 31.

"I'm ready for a break to be honest," McCaw said.

"Body-wise I'm really good. It's more I've just had enough of rugby for another year, not so much the games but the training and the stuff that goes with that.

"That's what's good about this week, it's not the intensity of a Test match so it makes it a little bit easier to get ready, a bit more relaxed."

Many have questioned the wisdom of persisting with the Barbarians match as the climax to a northern hemisphere side's European tour programme.

Critics argued the Barbarians traditional disadvantage of being a 'scratch' team was made all the greater in a professional era where they were coming up against increasingly well-drilled opponents.

For example the last time the All Blacks played the Barbarians, at Twickenham in 2004, they won by the blow-out score of 47-19. However, the Barbarians did much to redeem their own cause last year by running Australia close at Wembley before losing 18-11.

"Last year's game was one of the most physical I played on tour so it's not easy either," said McCaw, who played in that fixture.

"The Barbarians boys got stuck into the Wallabies early on. It was close."

And it could be so again this weekend.

The Barbarians are captained by Victor Matfield, the Springbok World Cup-winning lock, and he has six South Africans alongside him in the starting line-up including dashing wing Bryan Habana and Schalk Burger.

Dynamic flanker Burger is a member of a back-row that also includes Wallaby captain Rocky Elsom and Australia veteran George Smith.

In all there are four Wallabies in the starting line-up with Drew Mitchell at full-back and Matt Giteau set to pull the strings at fly-half.

New Zealand will also be up against a familiar opponent on Saturday in the shape of All Black wing Joe Rokocoko.

The Barbarians may be a UK-based club but, in marked contrast to years gone by, Wales centre Jamie Roberts is the only Home Nations representative in their starting side.

New Zealand haven't conceded a try all tour but the Barbarians have a wealth of attacking talent and will be facing a largely second-string All Blacks side.

"The All Blacks haven't had a try scored against them on tour, so that is the challenge that awaits us," said Barbarians coach Nick Mallett, the current Italy boss and former Springbok supremo.

"We have such good attacking players that if we can get enough ball, we will be dangerous."

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