McCaw leads All Blacks again
It may be a predictable and expected decision, but All Black coach Steve Hansen named Richie McCaw as captain.
It may be a predictable and expected decision, but All Black coach Steve Hansen named Richie McCaw as captain of the team for the opening Rugby Championship match.
New Zealand take on Australia in Sydney on Saturday in a game that doubles up as a Bledisloe Cup encounter.
Nearly nine months after trudging off Twickenham in defeat, McCaw will return to the Test arena.
McCaw will lead a hardened New Zealand side which will expose whether his 32-year-old frame is short of a gallop.
A proven performer in the past with little game time under his belt, McCaw faces his biggest cobweb-brushing exercise both physically and mentally, having reclaimed the captaincy from Kieran Read.
He stored the boots away after his 116th Test, the heavy loss to England in London on December 1, to pursue other interests at home and overseas.
His return to training two months ago was followed by an 80-minute club game, two late bench appearances for the Crusaders and 40 minutes against Canterbury in an All Blacks squad hit-out last Friday.
McCaw will be the second-oldest player to wear No.7 in an All Blacks Test behind 33-year-old Bob Stuart, against France in 1954.
And linking with Read, 27, and flank Liam Messam, 29, provides New Zealand with its oldest loose forward trio of the professional era.
It's the most grizzled since 30-year-olds Zinzan Brooke, Michael Jones and Mike Brewer faced Australia in 1995.
Veterans Tony Woodcock and Andrew Hore join Owen Franks in the front row with the Canterbury duo of Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano locking the scrum.
The backline is the predictable line-up of Aaron Smith and Aaron Cruden at No.9 and No.10, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith in the midfield, with Ben Smith, Julian Savea and Israel Dagg the back three.
Charlie Faumuina is back from injury on the bench, while an All Black debut is in the offing for Canterbury midfielder Ryan Crotty.
His ability to play at No.12 and No.13, and injuries to midfielder Francis Saili and flyhalf Daniel Carter, have seen him fast-tracked onto the All Blacks bench following an impressive Super Rugby season.
Utility Beauden Barrett and scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow are the other back reserves, while the forwards reserves are hooker Keven Mealamu, props Ben Franks and Charlie Faumuina, lock Brodie Retallick and loose forward Sam Cane.
The All Black coach, Hansen, said there's "huge excitement" in the group as the Bledisloe Cup is a very important trophy for the All Blacks.
"With the changing of the guard in the Australian coaching group, it adds a little bit of the unexpected to the challenge," he said.
"Therefore, we need to ready for anything they chuck at us.
"Whilst the expectations will be as high as they always are for the All Blacks to perform and win, I have a feeling there will also be huge expectations on the Australians because of the changes, and it will be interesting to see how their players and their new coaching team cope with this."
Hansen said the All Blacks had prepared well this week: "The expectation is to go over there and play with real intensity, physicality and accuracy."
The new scrum engagement laws will be used for the first time in the Rugby Championship and Hansen said he was excited by the potential of the new scrummaging engagement
"They will take some time to bed in, which is to be expected, but we believe they will bring great benefits for the game in the long-term."
The All Blacks squad flies into Sydney on Thursday.
Prop Joe Moody and outside back Charles Piutau will also travel to Sydney with the playing squad.
* Meanwhile a host of All Black squad members have been released this week to play in the NPC competition if required, with All Blacks management keen for the players - who have not played much rugby in recent weeks - to get some extra game time.
Those players are hooker Dane Coles, lock Jeremy Thrush and halfback TJ Perenara (for Wellington), wing Frank Halai (Counties Manukau) and flanker Steven Luatua (Auckland).
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Ryan Crotty.
Date: Saturday, August 17
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 20.05 AEST (22.05 NZ time; 10.05 GMT)
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)