Near misses in past as Todd finally gets chance

GLENN MCLEAN
Last updated 05:00 21/06/2013
Matt Todd
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ
DEBUT: Matt Todd's All Blacks debut has been a long time coming.

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The waiting game is almost over for Matt Todd as he looks set to finally fulfil an ambition many feel has been long overdue.

With more than 40 Super Rugby caps to his name, Todd has been touted as an All Black openside since breaking into the Crusaders in 2009, despite living very much in the towering shadow of Richie McCaw.

Overlooked for previous end-of-year tours, as well as being overlooked in favour of young Sam Cane, Todd could have been forgiven for thinking his time might never come, especially with McCaw signalling his intention of still being at the helm come the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

That sinking feeling of rejection had hit him again after the Crusaders had played the Waratahs last month when he sat in the shed at AMI Stadium and heard the names of team-mates who had made the All Blacks squad being read out.

"To wake up that Sunday morning and find out by text that I was in the squad, it was all pretty surreal," he said. "There was a lot going on and just to be in the squad as cover was great."

Although brought in as injury cover for lock Sam Whitelock, who was nursing a broken finger, many thought Todd would be largely there for tuition more than game time, especially with Steve Hansen stressing the importance of Cane's continued growth as McCaw enjoyed the last weeks of his sabbatical.

That changed on Tuesday, however, when Todd was given the news he would be on the bench against France tomorrow night.

The news got even better for the 25-year-old after Hansen more than hinted that the openside would definitely earn his first test cap.

"It may well seem strange but we've looked at Sam [Cane]," Hansen said. "He's had a big workload against a really physical pack and he'll have a big workload after that. By bringing Matt on to the bench it gives us an opportunity to give him a breather later in the game. And it's good for Matt, we'll find out a bit more about him at this level."

Todd almost found out a bit more about this level as he sat in the wings of the All Blacks camp during the 2011 Rugby World Cup as McCaw's badly damaged foot became worse by the day.

Those near misses should all but be forgotten about at Yarrow Stadium and it's hard to imagine Todd letting down any of his vocal supporters.

"I just can't wait for Saturday to roll around," he said. "I'm obviously looking forward to it and as I said, I just can't wait."

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Todd had been gathering as much information as he could get off Cane since the All Blacks first fronted France in Auckland, particularly around the tourists different style of attacking the breakdown.

"From watching them, and talking to our guys, they're obviously big boys who really put on emphasis on getting in there. That's obviously a real focus of theirs and they have been effective in that area. They do put a massive emphasis on it and the team in general has spoken about just how different it is from playing a New Zealand-type team. It's going to be a challenge."

Urgency in getting to the breakdown was two-thirds of winning the battle, according to Todd.

He said Hansen had not asked him to make any radical changes to his style of play, just on how important it was to stay strong over the ball, one of Todd's real strengths.

"First and foremost I have to get my head around the game plan because not being involved in the first two tests, I have a lot to catch up on."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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