NZ skipper McCaw relishing 'brutal' fixture with Springboks

Andrew Baldock 07:56 24/10/2015
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Ready for war: McCaw.

New Zealand captain Richie McCaw has predicted a “brutal” Test match when the All Blacks face South Africa in Saturday’s World Cup semi-final at Twickenham.

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McCaw’s men will go into battle as favourites in pursuit of a history-making second-successive world title, but the 34-year-old has been around long enough to understand how big a challenge lies ahead.

“It will be a brutal game, but they are the games I love,” said McCaw, who wins his 147th cap. “If you get the odd scar from it, that’s just part and parcel.

“Being in that environment, playing that opposition with that sort of intensity, is why you play the game. If we get the job done, I will take any scar that comes along with it.

“There is genuine desire for tomorrow to come around and get stuck in, but we realise the challenge that the Springboks are going to pose. They are going to be desperate and we’ve got to match that. It will be brutal because of that.

“The team that can deal with that and take the moments that are on offer will be the one that succeeds.”

New Zealand arrived in the semifinals following a 62-13 demolition of France in Cardiff last weekend, but that result is now history as far as McCaw is concerned.

“The first couple of days this week were about ensuring there was a full stop,” he added. “I think we have done that pretty well. Looking at the way we trained, the guys are in a pretty good space and understand the challenge that is coming. We are under absolutely no illusions about what is going to be in front of us.”

New Zealand were at their allsinging, all-dancing best when they put France to the sword, yet McCaw knows full well where the semifinal will be decided.

“It is not so much the flash stuff that is going to count, it’s being able to do the things that mean you can get across the advantage line. That doesn’t change in any game of rugby,” he said. “You live or die by tomorrow, and it is about getting the fundamentals right.”

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Eben Etzebeth (l) and Brodie Retallick (r) will go toe-to-toe once more.

After the All Blacks’ November victory against England in 2013, a banner reading “We are the most dominant team in the history of the world,” was found scrawled on a white board in the visitors changing room at Twickenham.

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Upon being quizzed about the ‘arrogant’ slogan in a press conference, the New Zealand coaching staff were forced into clarifying that the banner was a motivational aspiration, not an egotistical pat on the back.

Two years on and Steve Hansen’s men stand two victories away from becoming the first team to retain the World Cup and with it, fulfilling their prophesy.

In their way stand a resurgent South Africa that have been galvanized by a shock loss to Japan into producing some frightening displays of power en route to the semi-finals.

New Zealand’s win-ratio of 58% against South Africa is by some way their poorest margin of return in international rugby and the All Blacks will not be taking their old nemesis lightly.

Earlier this week New Zealand centre Conrad Smith paid his respects to the green and gold labeling South Africa as his team’s ‘ultimate rival.’

The reason for such high-handed praise comes from a similar mentality and approach to rugby from junior-level upwards between the two nations. South Africans, like kiwis, are born into a society where rugby is law and with it, an innate belief that they should win every game they play.

There is an enormous amount of respect between the two sides, whose players have come to know their opposite numbers almost as well as their own during regular clashes throughout the year and win or lose will always share a drink post-game.

After a disastrous Rugby Championship and calamitous opening round at the World Cup, the Springboks have reverted back to their tried and tested power-game to devastating effect.

With one-off runners hitting the gain-line at speed off the fly-half, expect some gruesome collisions. This game is likely to be an exciting war of attrition more than a free-flowing display of champagne rugby.

It is not often that second-rows occupy the limelight in a game but on Saturday it will be more than just rugby aficionados who will be keen to see the outcome of the engine-room battle.

In Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth South Africa possess an abundance of raw power, while 2014 IRB Player of the Year Brodie Retallick is a shrewd lineout operator that will cover every inch of the field for New Zealand.

It is no secret that New Zealand’s primary strength lies within their superior fitness and ability to punish teams out wide with quick ball.

If South Africa’s bully-boys are able to out-scrum their counterparts,  be disruptive at the breakdown and slow the attack, this game – like the last four between the teams – will go down to the wire.

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Argentina have surprised many this World Cup.

There is a school of thought among a certain strain of purist that rugby in the professional era is nowhere near as exciting as the amateur age.

A focus on defence and tactical kicking has reduced it to pumped-up chess, ultimately decided by which side does the basics the best. How terribly unromantic.

It’s true that professionalism and the subsequent growth of sports science has led to bigger and fitter players, while analytical studies of each game allow the smallest errors and imperfections to be, theoretically, ironed out.

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However, any curmudgeons still yearning for a lost era that, as is the case with most nostalgia is ultimately rose-tinted, may have changed their opinion slightly following Argentina’s performance against Ireland on Sunday.

The Pumas played the sort of free-flowing rugby with a degree of reckless abandon that had the purists reaching for the VCRs of the great Welsh teams of the 1970s.

From the risky offloads of captain Agustin Creevy to the support lines run by their electric back three of Santiago Cordero, Juan Imhoff and Joaquin Tuculet, the first and last 20 minutes of the match at the Millennium Stadium was a throwback to the days of yore.

If Ireland were abiding by a straightforward verse-chorus-verse-chorus song structure, Argentina were playing free jazz.

As is the case with that genre, most don’t know what to make of it. And Ireland, the northern hemisphere’s best defensive and most organised side, had no idea what to do. Yes, they were lacking the experience of Paul O’Connell and trusted lieutenants Peter O’Mahoney, Johnny Sexton and Sean O’Brien but the stoic def-ence and strict game management employed by Joe Schmidt went out of the window.

All this expansive rugby can be considered most un-Argentinian. The Pumas have traditionally been a hit ‘em hard up front and kick the points-type side. Yet something in the last five years has changed dramatically.

By entering the Rugby Championship in 2012, Argentina have realised you cannot beat the elite by playing a well-drilled, strutual gameplan. There has to be the element of surprise to your play.

As Daniel Hourcarde and his coaching staff admit, competing against New Zealand, Australia and South Africa on a regular basis can only have a positive long-term effect. Each one offers something different to add to your own style.

The Pumas now put that to the test against one of the sides that has aided their development, with the Wallabies waiting. In successive games, Wales and Scotland have made Australia look human whereas Argentina look capable of anything at present.

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