Test challenge for ABs skipper
New back-row partners and a new numberBY RICHARD KNOWLER IN HAMILTON
Tugging on the unfamiliar No 8 jersey will be just one new task Richie McCaw will be forced to grapple with before tomorrow night's test against Ireland at Waikato Stadium.
The All Blacks skipper will not just be starting his first test at No 8; he will also have to quickly acclimatise to a pair of new back-row partners, with the Chiefs duo of Sam Cane and Liam Messam slotting on to the flanks.
With Kieran Read not considered because of concussion and Adam Thomson relegated to the bench, the All Blacks will field a revamped loose-forward unit after the 22-19 win over the Irish in the second test in Christchurch last weekend.
Read's decision to retire at halftime at AMI Stadium forced McCaw to operate at No 8, while Cane slipped into openside flanker for his debut outing in a test.
Acclimatising to No 8 - a position he has filled on occasion with the Crusaders and Canterbury - should pose few problems for McCaw.
"I played 40 minutes last week, so it hasn't been too difficult this week. Obviously, I have to make sure Liam fits in well, and the three of us operate well together,'' McCaw said.
"At the end of the day, apart from some of the stuff at set-piece time, you don't change a whole lot.''
While Cane will lead the All Blacks' loosies into contact against the Irish ball carriers, McCaw will still be heavily involved as an assist tackler, cleaning out an opponent or seeking a turnover.
Although he probably does not possess Read's spring-heeled leap at lineout time, McCaw is still a valuable option and may be used at the front of the set piece more.
This back row differs vastly from the one that helped beat France in last year's World Cup final.
Read is sidelined and Jerome Kaino is also missing because he is injured and is set to play in Japan.
There will undoubtedly be plenty of emotion for Cane in this match as he plays in front of his family and friends from around the Chiefs region.
His captain was suitably impressed by his calm demeanour in Christchurch, especially as the Irish drew 19-all in the final quarter and began dominating the All Blacks scrum.
"You couldn't have got more of a pressure situation to come into in your first test,'' McCaw said. "He did particularly well, I thought; like he had been around for a while.''
Having won the series, the All Blacks are now seeking a whitewash but will need to be more conscious of the conditions tomorrow night.
Although it was not wet in Christchurch, the heavy dew made handling difficult, and McCaw was one of main culprits as he shelled a series of passes.
The instructions to first five-eighth Aaron Cruden are likely to be blunt in Hamilton - look for field position with accurate kicks to allow the chaser to pressure the Irish attack into making errors.
"We didn't play at the right end of the field for parts of it. It was a bit around the middle of the field,'' McCaw said in reference to the second test. "We have to make sure we get the balance right.''
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