Springboks play up Richie McCaw's knee injury
Buoyant Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer says the sidelining of Richie McCaw's is a "big blow" for the All Blacks as the two form teams of world rugby go head to head in Auckland this week.
Steve Hansen's All Blacks are on a six-game winning streak in 2013, including all three of their Rugby Championship fixtures.
Meyer's Boks are riding a nine-test victory run that also sees them 3-0 in the southern hemisphere competition. So Saturday night at Eden Park shapes as something special.
But it will not feature McCaw after the All Blacks skipper damaged his medial ligaments in Saturday's 28-13 victory over Argentina.
From a South African perspective that makes the world champions a slightly different beast.
"I've got a lot of respect for Richie, he's probably one of the best players that's ever played the game," Meyer said today as he presented a clean bill of health after Saturday's record-breaking 38-12 victory over the Wallabies in Brisbane.
"He's a great player. If we lost Jean [de Villiers], I know what that would mean to our team.
"They've still got great leaders, Kieran Read and a lot of other guys as well. But there's only one Richie McCaw and it definitely will be a big blow for them."
Not that Meyer is lacking respect for Chiefs youngster Sam Cane who will step into the No 7 jersey this week for the biggest assignment of his career. Far from it.
"One thing I know about New Zealand rugby, they've probably got the best opensides around," Meyer added.
"He's a quality player - every single New Zealand openside in Super Rugby is a quality player.
"They've won a lot of games without Richie as well and they won't change their game plan. We know what to expect, and we think the breakdown is going to be a war like it always is, especially in New Zealand."
What is certain is that the All Blacks will sacrifice some physical presence with Cane's inclusion. At just 103 kilograms, he gives up plenty in size against Boks openside Francois Louw who weighs in at an imposing 112kg.
The need to "beef up" the New Zealand loose trio could result in Liam Messam returning to the starting lineup at blindside after his recent hamstring problems.
However, Hansen will have to weigh that against the dynamic and athletic qualities that Steven Luatua brings.
There was definitely a spring in the step of the South Africans as they arrived in Auckland riding high on the back of that drought-busting thumping of the Wallabies.
The Boks hadn't won in Brisbane since 1971 and their four tries to nil annihilation of Ewen McKenzie's imploding Australians suggests they're a side very much on the rise.
Meyer said his team's focus this week would be very much around what they needed to bring to the park against an All Blacks side he was sure would rally round to fill the void left by their skipper.
"This week we definitely want to focus on our own team. We want to take it to the next level. I truly believe this is going to be the ultimate challenge - tougher than we've ever had before.
"But it's a great challenge. I love being in New Zealand, and that's the mindset. We can't wait to get on the field. We know we're underdogs but we like that tag and we've done well under that tag.
"We feel we're in a win-win situation and can't wait to get going."
If Meyer had spotted any potential weaknesses in the New Zealand scrum after they were given a tickle-up by the Pumas in Hamilton, he certainly wasn't letting on today.
"The All Blacks always lift themselves for South Africa," he said.
"They've got a really good scrum, and have always had a great scrum. There are no weaknesses in that team.
"They can play the open running game, they can play the tactical game, and their set piece, especially the lineout, has really improved the last few years. And they've always had a great scrum.
"We are up for the ultimate challenge, we know it's going to be tough, the odds are against us and we're looking forward to it."
Meyer also liked what the new regulations were doing to the scrum, which was now a much more effective launch platform than it had been.
"It's still a contest, there are not as many reset scrums and at least you can play from scrums. At one stage you only scrummed for penalties and there wasn't any play from scrums," he said.
"Suddenly there's more play starting to develop from scrums. I think the more guys play it, the easier it will get and we'll get more play from scrums. I just hope they can keep it there for a few years."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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