McCaw comes full circle


LONDON, November 19 – New Zealand record-breaker Richie McCaw will return to the ground where it all began for him as an international player when the All Blacks face Ireland at Lansdowne Road in Dublin on Saturday.

Admittedly a revamped stadium is a much changed area from the ramshackle venue where the flanker made his Test debut during a 40-29 victory in 2001.

But McCaw — who with full-back Mils Muliaina will break former New Zealand captain Sean Fitzpatrick’s national record of 92 caps this weekend — said Lansdowne Road, be it old or new, would always be "special" in his eyes.

"The Irish game will be the first time we have played at the new stadium, so that will be special," McCaw said.

"I have a special memory of Lansdowne Road, nine years ago playing there. It’s nice to come back (92 Tests) later and still be trucking in the team, that’s the nice part."

New Zealand have never lost to Ireland in 23 Tests dating back to the inaugural encounter in 1905 and they will be especially firm favourites after a 49-3 thrashing of Scotland last weekend led them halfway to a third ‘grand slam’ in five years.

The last time the All Blacks faced Ireland, they triumphed by the crushing margin of 66-28 in New Plymouth in June during a match where Ireland No 8 Jamie Heaslip was sent-off for kneeing McCaw in the back.

But the 29-year-old McCaw insisted he didn’t hold a grudge.

"Those things sometimes happen on the field so you just move on," said McCaw. "I don’t get carried away and I definitely don’t carry grudges. I can put that stuff away and get on with the game."

Ireland were desperately uninspiring in a 20-10 win over Samoa last week, which followed a 23-21 loss to world champions South Africa.

But McCaw said: "The last time we played in June we only had the better of things in the first half (after Heaslip was sent-off).

"We know that if we don’t turn up with the right attitude, we will have a tough day. I’ve never had an easy win in Dublin."

New Zealand have made six changes to the side that overwhelmed the Scots with the most significant concerning centre Sonny Bill Williams, who has been demoted to the bench despite winning the man-of-the-match award at Murrayfield.

Instead New Zealand coach Graham Henry has recalled Ma’a Nonu to resume his seasoned centre partnership with Conrad Smith in what appears to be a recognition of the greater midfield threat the All Blacks will face from the experienced Irish duo of skipper Brian O’Driscoll and centre Gordon D’Arcy.

Ireland coach Declan Kidney has given the side that lost to the Springboks a chance to make amends against New Zealand.

"We know our error count against South Africa and that’s what we’ve been trying to rectify," said Kidney.

"It’s why we’ve gone with this team. The players deserve another go."

Only prop Tony Buckley, out with a hip injury, is missing from the starting line-up that lost to South Africa after Kidney made multiple changes for the Samoa match.

Kidney’s line-up to play New Zealand has seen him opt for the youthful half-back pairing of Eoin Reddan and Jonathan Sexton rather than go with veterans Peter Stringer and Ronan O’Gara.

Against the Boks, O’Gara, well supported by Stringer, sparked a late rally that nearly saw Ireland escape with a fortunate draw.

If an in-form Sexton offers a greater attacking threat than O’Gara, Stringer can consider himself a touch unlucky not to be starting this weekend after Reddan’s error-strewn display against South Africa.

Kidney, defending his scrum-half selection, said: "Jonathan and Peter is a combination that hasn’t had time yet, but there are lots of combinations I’d like to try," he said.

"Unfortunately international rugby doesn’t allow you to do a lot of experimentation.

"Peter has 93 caps so I know what he brings to the table. Now it’s time to find out new things."