New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen has vigorously defended All Blacks captain Richie McCaw after video footage emerged of him apparently striking South Africa flanker Francois Louw during Saturday’s World Cup semi-final at Twickenham.
It is unclear from footage whether McCaw made contact with his elbow or hip, but World Rugby last night decided it was latter as they confirmed he would not be cited for the incident.
It was welcome news for the All Blacks as it means the 147 times-capped McCaw is free to play in next weekend’s World Cup final.
Hansen, speaking at a press conference on Sunday, before World Rugby’s announcement, said: “There is nothing in it, so there’s nothing to talk about. Everyone has got a bit excited, and we move on.
“He (McCaw) is a man that draws a lot of attention because he’s been a great player, maybe the greatest player in the history of the game.
“If he is not in your team, he’s a pain in the rear end, so it goes that if you can’t get him on the track let’s get him off the track. It’s a mark of respect, really. He takes it in his stride, and the team takes it in their stride.”
Bath forward Louw briefly went off nine minutes after the first half McCaw incident – which happened at a ruck – for treatment to a cut caused during a lineout.
“He had two knocks to his head, and we put some sutures in the one from an elbow during the lineout, but that won’t keep him out of the match on Friday,” Springboks team doctor Craig Roberts said, ahead of the Springboks’ World Cup bronze medal match in five days’ time.
New Zealand will become the first team in rugby union history to make a successful world title defence if they win next weekend’s final against bitter rivals Australia, but South Africa pushed them all the way before going down 20-18 on Saturday.
If McCaw’s denied final by elbow there’s something very wrong. Would be just a guesswork on intent – not good enough with so much at stake
— Dan Roan (@danroan) October 24, 2015
“When you have performances like we did in Cardiff (62-13 quarter-final win against France) it’s very difficult mentally to get back into that same spot,” Hansen added.
“It was a really tight, tough game (against South Africa) where we probably didn’t play as well as we could have. I think some of our game needs to be looked at. We will go into the final really hungry for a performance.
“We won’t be overrating ourselves, which will be good. I think we will lift, there will be enough excitement. The final will be energising in its own right.”
And reflecting on the semi-final clash, All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams added: “It could have gone either way. We could have been sitting on the ground there knowing that four years of hard work was over.
“At half-time, we talked about fixing up a few technical things, but just trying to stay in that moment because it was do-or-die footie.”
And Williams’ fellow centre Conrad Smith said: “There was not too much panic at half-time when we were down to 14 men (after a yellow card for Jerome Kaino).
“There was still a lot of belief in us. We just needed to show that bit more urgency, and I think we did that.”
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Australia survived a rousing second-half fightback from Argentina to register a 29-15 victory at Twickenham that sets up a World Cup final against old foes New Zealand next Saturday.
Adam Ashley-Cooper’s hat-trick and a touch down by Rob Simmons helped the Wallabies reach the sport’s global showpiece for the first time since 2003, but their fans were subjected to some nerve-shredding moments.
Roared on by an animated Diego Maradona who was watching from the stands, Argentina pegged back a 19-9 half-time deficit through the boot of Nicolas Sanchez and from the 54th minute they trailed by only a converted try.
But as they pressed for the precious score they needed to make their final debut, they were caught on the counter with eight minutes remaining by an inspired mazy run from Drew Mitchell with man of the match Ashley-Cooper on hand to complete his hat-trick.
David Pocock was magnificent once again, enforcing Australian rule of the breakdown, although Argentina were often their own worst enemies as they needlessly coughed up the ball time and again.
And while the Pumas ran out of ideas at times, their opponents were ruthless when offered sight of the whitewash.
Twickenham willed Argentina on and had they not made such a disastrous start in which they appeared determined to self-destruct, it could have been a different outcome.
Emotion was etched on to the Pumas’ faces as they sang the national anthem and it was a lack of clear-thinking that enabled Australia to plunder a try inside the opening two minutes when Simmons picked off a telegraphed pass by Sanchez to score under the posts.
As if determined to blow their chances of a showdown with New Zealand, Argentina continued to make a series of naive mistakes, the worst of which saw Sanchez take a quick penalty just yards from his line and knock-on.
From the ensuing attacking scrum, Foley – who shortly before had performed a try-saving tackle on Marcelo Bosch – floated a perfectly judged long-range pass to Ashley-Cooper who raced over in the right corner.
— M A X Chilton (@maxchilton) October 25, 2015
Argentina trailed 14-3 after just 10 minutes and the bad news continued to pour in with a groggy Juan Imhoff being helped from the pitch with what appeared to be concussion.
Two penalties by Sanchez gave the Pumas hope, but this faded once more when lock Tomas Lavanini was sent to the sin-bin by Wayne Barnes for an illegal tackle on Folau, an act that resulted in jeers for the English referee from the pro-Argentina crowd.
Australia took the bold step of sending successive penalties into touch instead of going for goal and while the move did not immediately pay off, eventually the reward came.
After repeatedly switching the point of attack, holes began to appear in the Pumas’ defence and Matt Giteau intelligently capitalised on an overlap by flinging a long pass to Ashley-Cooper for the wing’s second try.
Argentina lost captain Agustin Creevy to injury, but there was an irrepressibility about their play and only desperate tackles prevented wing Santiago Cordero and centre Juan Martin Hernandez from scoring.
— Wallabies (@Wallabies) October 25, 2015
Foley missed a penalty, Australia’s scrum collapsed in front of the posts and Sanchez slotted the three points as the deficit was narrowed to 19-12 amid a nervy start to the second half.
An exchange of penalties by Foley and Sanchez kept the scoreboard ticking over in a hard-fought third quarter that almost saw Argentina unlocked when Foley gathered a clever kick from Kurtley Beale, but the fly-half’s final pass fell short of Ashley-Cooper.
Nerves were starting to afflict Australia, Foley steering a drop-goal off-target before Folau kicked into his own player to concede accidental offside that allowed the Pumas to renew their attack.
Argentina continued to be hamstrung by their error-count as they repeatedly coughed up possession and they were eventually caught on the counter with Mitchell blazing a trail into the 22 before supplying Ashley-Cooper with the final pass.
Australia had done enough to win and refused to allow their line to be breached as the Pumas pounded away in the final minutes.
Juan Martin Hernandez has warned Argentina to be on guard to face “one of the best players in rugby history” in Matt Giteau.
‘The Magician’ Hernandez will go face-to-face with former Toulon team-mate and fellow playmaker Giteau when Argentina take on Australia in today’s World Cup semi-final.
Teak-tough Wallabies centre Giteau revealed his softer side in branding Hernandez “the beautiful man” this week, anticipating a seismic challenge in the 12 channel.
Hernandez jokingly demurred at Giteau’s compliment, but turned very serious very quickly to outline his opposite number’s varied threats. “Well, what he said is very kind,” said Hernandez.
“He would call me that at Toulon, just joking, in the changing room, at the beach, it’s just a joke between us. I would call him something similar in French. I’m really looking forward to playing against him.
“It’s a big challenge for me to go up against one of the best players rugby has ever had, one of the best players in rugby history.
“His skills are amazing, he can run quickly, he can kick, he can pass, he can take a gap, so it’s going to be different from the game against Ireland in the centres. It will be tough.”
Hernandez and Giteau’s mutual admiration society will not last even one second of combat at Twickenham today. Every single attribute Hernandez outlined in Giteau’s game, the 33-year-old Pumas pivot possesses in spades himself.
Should both men hit their lofty heights, today’s contest will be something to behold. Hernandez believes his centre partner Marcelo Bosch could however hold the key to Argentina claiming a victory that would secure a maiden World Cup final.
Saracens centre Bosch has been restored to the starting line-up after missing the 43-20 quarterfinal demolition of Ireland due to a one-week ban for a dangerous tackle.
The 31-year-old leads Argentina’s defensive line, hardly surprising given he excels among Saracens’ much-vaunted “Wolfpack” rearguard cordon.
“Marcelo is a great defender,” Hernandez said.
“He’s the one that leads our backline defence. Although Matias Moroni did really well against Ireland, Marcelo has great experience and he’s very important for me and for the team because there are many good options out wide for Australia.
“They run many good lines and have many big ball carriers like Folau and Kuridrani, so Marcelo’s very important to make the right decision.”
Likely Argentina line-up
Argentina boss Daniel Hourcade almost convinced Australia counterpart Michael Cheika to join the Pumas set-up last year.
Cheika has since swapped the Waratahs for the Wallabies, but was close to joining Hourcade’s backroom staff before his home nation came calling.
The former Leinster boss recruited scrum guru Mario Ledesma to his Waratahs coaching staff thanks to his long-term friendship with Felipe Contepomi.
Cheika coached Contepomi at both Leinster and Stade Francais, and the former Pumas fly-half helped him bring Ledesma on board, first to the Waratahs and now the Wallabies.
Hourcade and Cheika worked together when Argentina’s Pampas XV, that play in the Vodacom Cup in South Africa, trained with the Waratahs in Australia in March.
— Wallabies (@Wallabies) October 25, 2015
Now Hourcade expects a tough encounter with another shrewd tactician in his friend Cheika this weekend.
Likely Australia line-up
“Michael Cheika is one of the best coaches in the world,” said Hourcade.
“Our union wanted him to help us, we were in contact with him last year.
“We were working with the Waratahs at the beginning of the year, and we’ve learned a lot from him. “He has really changed the personality of his Australia team.
“He gives his players a lot of confidence and security, and that really translates well on the field.”