Randell: Don't move Richie McCaw - he's No 7

TAINE RANDELL
Last updated 05:00 30/06/2013

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OPINION: Richie McCaw should stay in the No 7 jersey when he returns to action.

It's been interesting watching the impact of McCaw's absence through his sabbatical.

The Crusaders have missed him, but that wasn't so obvious in the All Blacks who, man for man, were far superior to France.

There's been plenty of debate about his best position as he gets set to return. Suggestions of moving McCaw around the back row started a couple of seasons ago, but they have reached a crescendo in recent weeks with plenty of talk about him playing some rugby at No 6. Even All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has hinted at that.

At the age of 32 and with 116 tests to his name, some have questioned whether he's still up to the demands of the openside flanker's role.

They'll argue that Michael Jones, another great All Blacks loosie, made the transition, so why can't Richie?

But thoughts of moving McCaw should be stopped right now because it's the wrong thing to do.

I don't agree with the parallels drawn to Jones for technical and timing reasons.

They are different players for a start. Jones was a high-impact, explosive forward; McCaw is more of a tireless worker. When Jones made the switch to No 6, there weren't a great deal of options at blindside while the All Blacks had a world class alternative at No 7 in Josh Kronfeld.

That's not the case right now. The All Blacks have no shortage of blindside options when you consider Liam Messam, Victor Vito and Steve Luatua.

There's also the prospect of Jerome Kaino returning from Japan in a bid to get his black jersey back.

But with due respect to Sam Cane, the stocks are comparatively thin at No 7 in the test ranks.

It's highly debatable whether McCaw would be the All Blacks' best No 6. But he certainly remains their best No 7.

He has evolved into a bit of a ball carrier these days and that's been used as part of the argument to have him switch sides. But again, I'd suggest Messam, Vito and Luatua might all have stronger claims in this department where they have athletic and dynamic ball-carrying abilities.

It's the same thing at No 8 where McCaw has played at times. Kieran Read is hands-down the best player in that position and Vito might well be the next best.

McCaw's good mate Dan Carter comes under similar scrutiny as the depth at No 10 improves. But right now Carter remains the best first-five in the country and we have Ma'a Nonu shining at No 12.

Basically, I don't see the point in trying to shove square pegs into round holes.

The All Blacks need to be picking the best team. And that team should be made up of the best player in each position, rather than trying to manufacture a side around your best players.

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I can't let the column finish without mention of the British & Irish Lions tour of Australia.

Anyone questioning the relevance of the Lions must be mad. In this day and age when full tours are virtually non-existent, the Lions are all the more important to the game.

Commercially they are a massive money-spinner and the benefits are immense.

But the on-field performance is just as impressive.

This is written without knowing the result of last night's match in Melbourne, but the tests appear to be as intense as anything around a World Cup semifinal.

Long may they continue. New Zealand's next up to host them in in 2017 and there's no reasons why the value of the Lions won't actually increase over the next four years.

- Taine Randell is a former All Blacks captain

- Sunday News

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