All Blacks: McCaw back as coaches admit deficiencies

The man for a crisis is back, with Richie McCaw's timely return coinciding with the All Blacks' coaching triumvirate candidly admitting their difficulties adapting to rugby's experimental law variations.

In a major boost to New Zealand's hopes of keeping their Tri-Nations title defence alive, inspirational captain McCaw was today named to start against Australia at Eden Park on Saturday night.

The flanker's return from an ankle injury is a blessed relief, while versatile veteran Leon MacDonald is another notable inclusion as a kicking back-up to Dan Carter - a change made after Graham Henry confessed his coaching team had been tactically outwitted by Robbie Deans in Sydney last weekend.

Henry and his assistants Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith admitted they were struggling to get to grips with the nuances of the Elvs, having had just three tests to acclimatise.

Smith first put the onus on Henry declaring: "Frankly I think the coach (Henry) lost the tactical battle" before acknowledging his own shortcomings.

"We're all learning under the Elvs. I'm been out-coached before and I'll be out-coached again.

We played too much behind our own gain line."

Henry, in the midst of one of the toughest weeks of his career, agreed saying it was the "biggest adjustment" for a coach to switch from one set of laws to another.

They had studied the Elvs during the Super 14 and sought the advice from Taranaki B coach Leo Crowley, whose side won their provincial competition under the new laws last season.

But there was no substitute for practical experience, something Deans has plenty of given he guided the Crusaders to a fifth Super rugby title in May.

"We've done a lot of work and a lot of research but we're finding out is there's a lot of subtleties that you just can't cover off," Smith said.

"You've got to learn those yourself."

MacDonald's inclusion at fullback is a product of their self analysis.

He was rested last week to get over knee and elbow niggles with his return enabling the All Blacks to field their most experienced back three.

Mils Muliaina, who will start on the wing for just the fifth time in his 60-test career, replaces Anthony Tuitavake while the other confirmed backline change has Conrad Smith take over from Richard Kahui.

Halfback remain contentious with Jimmy Cowan (knee) and Andy Ellis (ribs) still in doubt. Cowan is the most likely to start, with new arrival Piri Weepu on the bench when a decision is made on Thursday. Andrew Hore (hip) and Keven Mealamu have also been bracketed at hooker.

Both Muliaina and especially MacDonald will be empowered to kick for territory - a ploy practically ignored when the All Blacks slumped to a 34-19 loss in Sydney.

Henry conceded his side's determination to run out of their territory was a major oversight.

"The kicking game has changed considerably, it's more of a kick-chase game," said Henry, who has realised an effective chase can force turnovers at the tackle.

McCaw's recovery from an ankle injury should at least provide some parity at the breakdown after the All Blacks have been dominated there during losses to the Wallabies and Springboks.

But there are concerns he will not last the match, understandable considering he has not played since the second test against England on June 21.

McCaw was bracketed last week with Daniel Braid before pulling out. A week later Braid has been named alongside Adam Thomson on the bench with the latter gaining the nod if medical staff feel McCaw can go the distance.

"He didn't take a full part in training but what he did he did well," said Henry before emphasising the importance of having his skipper back.

"It means a tremendous amount. He's a class act, he leads from the front, he's demanding of others."

The loose forward mix has undergone another change with stand-in captain Rodney So'oialo reverting to his normal position at No 8, ending the experiment of playing two fetchers.

Jerome Kaino, who has had mixed success at the back of the scrum, switches to the blindside flank where he was utilised by the Blues.

"The idea was to play two fetchers and a bigger guy at eight. Against some sides you can do that, against this side you can't," Hansen explained.

Ironically the Wallabies believe the policy has merit, naming Phil Waugh in tandem with George Smith after regular blindside Rocky Elsom was ruled out with a foot injury.

There should be no debate after All Blacks management marked the end of another innovation by predictably cutting butter-fingered impact forward Sione Lauaki from the 22.

- NZPA

- NZ Herald

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