All Blacks banking on McCaw return
All Blacks banking on McCaw returnSHARE
The All Blacks headed to South Africa on Monday banking on the return of talismanic captain Richie McCaw to put the seal on another successful season.
Although New Zealand require just a single bonus point to retain their Rugby Championship title, they are determined to seal it by beating arch rivals South Africa in Johannesburg on Saturday.
And the All Blacks are confident they will have McCaw in their arsenal.
McCaw has recovered from the knee injury suffered a month ago against the Wallabies and coach Steve Hansen expects him to front up at Ellis Park as long as he comes through training this week.
"He is confident and I am confident of that [his return]," Hansen said as his team departed Buenos Aires en route to Johannesburg.
"He [McCaw] is a good judge of his own body.
"Watching him train all [of last] week, he just got better and better – he will be fine," the All Black mentor said.
"I don't want to downplay what Sam [Cane] has done the last couple of weeks, because I think he's been fantastic.
"However, the other guy [McCaw] is probably the greatest player we've ever had, so it'll be nice having him back on the track."
The All Blacks will arrive in Johannesburg, following a nine hour flight, with Owen Franks the only player under an injury cloud.
"Obviously there's some bumps and bruises. Owen is pretty sore, we'll have to make a decision what we're going to do with him but everyone else seems pretty fine," Hansen said.
Charlie Faumuina is eyeing a potential fourth start in the All Blacks front row.
Franks injured his groin in the first half of the 33-15 Test win against Argentina at the weekend, but is en route with the squad to Johannesburg.
Faumuina came off the bench in La Plata and will start if Franks fails a fitness test, with Ben Afeaki set to join the squad as cover.
Hansen said the All Blacks is not just going to play for a bonus point, but will go out to win at Ellis Park.
"We'll go up, I would say five or six notches from the encounter with Argentina," he said. adding: "I would say we'll do that pretty naturally, because of the edge that comes with playing someone like South Africa.
"We will need to play a lot better if we are going to beat them"
Hansen felt the fact that the Boks need to win and score a four-try bonus point is going to suit his team.
"They are going to have to play some rugby to get four tries and that will suit us as much as it will suit the Springboks," he said.
"Our guys are looking forward to this match. They are already starting to talk about it so I don't think there will be any problem getting them motivated."
No.8 Kieran Read said the clash with fellow two-time world champions South Africa was a challenge he relished.
"It is going to be a big match next weekend. We face a long flight and then we must recover and prepare for the Springboks," Read said.
The only possible issue might be the venue, with the All Blacks' last win at Ellis Park having been a 35-32 thriller back in 1997.
South Africa won 46-20 at the world famous stadium in 2000 and 40-26 in 2004.
The last two Tests between the teams in Johannesburg, in 2010 and 2012, were both played at Soccer City in Soweto – with those results going the way of the All Blacks.
However, Hansen is adamant that Ellis Park hold no great fears for his team.
"This team likes writing its own history," the Kiwi mentor said, adding: "It is just another ground and a place where we need to go and say, we are able to play well here."
Hansen also felt that the travel arrangements suits his team – leaving Buenos Aires on in the evening and arriving in Johannesburg in the morning.
"That's one good thing about the plane ride, it fits into their time zone of sleeping so we get on a plane we'll probably have the first meal and then try and get as much sleep as we possibly can.''
Sources: One News, 3 News & Newstalk ZB