Meads, Fitzy, McCaw – true grit

TAINE RANDELL COLUMN
Last updated 05:00 09/10/2011
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JASON OXENHAM/Fairfax NZ

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw always leads the charge, and he'll do so again today against Argentina despite the pain.

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Richie McCaw is a bit of a throwback. There's an air of old school about his persona. We suspect there's some pain but he's going to grit his teeth and play through it.

I admire Richie McCaw's attitude as he gets set to lead the All Blacks into the World Cup playoffs. So much attention has been placed on his injured foot over the past week or two but it certainly isn't distracting the New Zealand skipper. "What's all the fuss about?" he asks. "Let's get on with it."

In this modern era of professional rugby, McCaw is a bit of a throwback. There's an air of old school about his persona. We all suspect there is indeed a bit of pain in that foot but he is just going to grit his teeth and play through it.

We've seen this sort of thing before in some of our All Blacks greats. Think of Colin Meads running around with a broken arm in a cast against the Springboks in South Africa. Sean Fitzpatrick hobbling about on one knee towards the end of his remarkable test career.

Yes, they were hurting. But that didn't stop them playing.

McCaw is right out of that mould and you know if you put him in the same room as Pinetree and Fitzy the same traits would shine through.

These are men whose mental strength outweighed their remarkable physical talents. When times got tough on their body their minds lifted them to another level.

It's why McCaw has got to play 100 tests. That's a remarkable achievement in the modern game, especially for a player in as combative a position as his.

And what's made that even more impressive is the consistency of his performance levels.

Father Time catches up with everyone but McCaw continues to defy that and right now he's being driven by the World Cup cause.

When you have someone like that in your team it's an absolute inspiration. Champion players can put niggles aside and just get on with things.

Others – and I suspect there have even been a few All Blacks in recent times – seem to attract injuries and fall over with alarming regularity. Sometimes I wonder if that is a mental attitude as much as a physical problem.

So while there may have been a bit of a cautious approach with McCaw during cup pool play he now seems ready to step up, no matter what.

The circumstances dictate that. The phony war is over and it's now do-or-die. And we all know the knockout phase is where the All Blacks have faltered every time since the 1991 contest.

The country has had some cause for doubts over the last week or so. While New Zealanders have wondered out loud about McCaw's foot they have also been shocked by the tournament-ending injury to Dan Carter.

No one wanted that but I suspect it might actually be a unifying force for these All Blacks and could bring out the best in them. Clearly, some are going to have to lift their performances to collectively cover Carter's absence.

Is there a feel of 1987 about this? Remember losing skipper Andy Dalton on the eve of the first World Cup in New Zealand? There was still heaps of pressure on the All Blacks operating at home but the expectations weren't too high and they went on to win their only title.

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I think, under the circumstances, tonight's quarterfinal is a good match for the All Blacks to get into the groove, especially the likes of McCaw, Kieran Read and Colin Slade.

The Pumas aren't the same force they were four years ago and their form here has been average. They will offer a good challenge up front but I'd expect the All Blacks to win by 20-25 points.

Today's two quarterfinals are a preview of next year's Four Nations, with the Springboks taking on the Wallabies in the early match in Wellington.

It's a huge game for this stage of the tournament. These are two genuine heavy hitters, ranked two and three in the world, and there is going to be a big-time casualty.

The Australians have got some key players coming back from injury, including Digby Ioane, Kurtley Beale and Pat McCabe, while the South Africans have to live without a couple of stars in Frans Steyn and Bakkies Botha.

As far as form goes, I think the Boks might be looking better at this stage of the tournament.

But as I've often said, these Wallabies always have that fantastic performance lurking in them.

It's a tough result to call but I suspect Australia might pull one out of the bag.

Taine Randell is a former All Blacks captain.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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