Merciless McCaw wants wounded Wallaby scalps

 

Richie McCaw, just about the finest player in the 17-year history of professional rugby union and a World Cup-winning captain to boot, has never been one to get ahead of himself – hence his understandable decision to concentrate body and soul on today's Bledisloe Cup game with Australia rather than cast his mind forward to the task of chasing down those titans from… wait for it… Lithuania.

Victory over the Wallabies in the final southern hemisphere Test of the year will give New Zealand their 17th straight win – one shy of the low-grade series of successes pieced together by the men from the Baltic between 2006 and 2010 – and while McCaw might, for the sake of politeness, acknowledge that winning is never easy in Vilnius, he knows it is a damned sight harder in Brisbane, where even the most fragile Australian teams draw strength from their surroundings.

All joking aside, today's game marks a red letter day for McCaw and his countrymen. If, as expected by pretty much everyone, they prevail over a Wallaby side riddled with injury – no James O'Connor, Drew Mitchell, Berrick Barnes or Will Genia; no Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander, James Horwill or David Pocock – the All Blacks will draw level with Brian Lochore's great side of the 1960s. They will also find themselves squared with the Springboks of Gary Teichmann, who won 17 straight in the late 90s before falling to earth at Twickenham.

Speaking of England, the red-rose coaches will be watching events in Queensland with interest. Both teams visit London this autumn but in the first instance, Stuart Lancaster and company will be fascinated to see how the Wallabies cope with going in light against the sport's outstanding practitioners. Australia are certain to be under-strength when they arrive on these shores next month – O'Connor, Barnes and Genia have already been withdrawn from the trip – but being a resourceful bunch, they will be confident of posing a different kind of threat.

The grand old lock Nathan Sharpe, succeeded in striking an optimistic note on the eve of today's contest. "We'll have to play our best game of the year but this fits the Australian psyche a little bit," the captain said. "We like to show our character when our backs are against the wall."

The trouble from the Australians' point of view is that the All Blacks understand the Wallaby psyche almost as much as the Wallabies understand it themselves. There was not so much as the slightest hint of complacency about McCaw yesterday. It is not in his sporting DNA.

"We're prepared for a big Test: the last thing you want to do is let your standards slip and I think we've shown good intensity in training," he said. "They'll still have the Wallaby jumper on. They'll still be desperate to play well. The important thing is that we still have desire. I'm not saying the things around this game haven't been thought about, but if we do our job right, all that will take care of itself."

With those words, McCaw spoke as Lochore and his senior lieutenants in that great side of 40-odd years ago – Colin Meads, Kel Tremain, Ken Gray, Waka Nathan – would have spoken. Like them, the current captain never lets up. Not for a single second.

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