All Blacks: McCaw sticking with seven

Richie McCaw. Photo / Getty Images
Richie McCaw. Photo / Getty Images

The All Blacks selectors have no plans to convert captain Richie McCaw to a No 8 on a permanent basis despite him filling that position during the rugby test against Fiji last week.

There had been speculation this week that openside flanker McCaw may be shifted to the back of the scrum to start the test against South Africa in Wellington on Saturday, in the absence of the incumbent Kieran Read, but assistant coach Steve Hansen was quick to kick that notion into touch today.

"There's no big plan to turn Richie McCaw into a No 8, other than when we need him to go there as a back-up player," he said.

"He's the best No 7 in the world so I'm hoping his long-term future is at No 7.

"We need to have flexibility in the loose forwards and at the moment the flexibility of him being able to go to eight allows us to give Reado the time out of the environment that he needs - so I wouldn't read too much into it," Hansen said.

Read, after a heavy workload for the Crusaders in their run to the Super 15 final, was rested for the test against Fiji. He will also be watching Saturday's test from home, along with lock Brad Thorn, prop Owen Franks and hooker Keven Mealamu who have all been given extra time away from the game by the All Blacks coaches.

Hansen said McCaw, who slotted in at No 8 in the 60-14 win in Dunedin after Liam Messam was replaced in the second half, was a different player to Read, who he rated as the best No 8 in the world.

"It is handy to be able to have someone who can slot back in there and do the basic core roles well ... because it gives you versatility in who you can pick as your fourth loose forward."

Four extra players in the squad as injury cover allowed the coaches to rest those they felt were a little overcooked after a physically and emotionally taxing Super 15. But they now have been given a welcome headache after some of those omitted from the original 30-man Tri-Nations squad put in eye-catching performances against Fiji.

"The harder selection is the better it is for the team ... it'll make things tougher but we just have to get things right," Hansen said.

The rest and recuperation plan had achieved its desired results, with Hansen noticing more energy from the players who were released from the squad for the opening test of a busy international season.

"They're starting to freshen up and getting itchy about wanting to play which is great, which is a good sign. You can just see it in their demeanour when they came back in this week that there was a bounce in their step again and they're starting to enjoy life as opposed to rugby being a bit of a chore.

"For us, that's the ultimate, that's what we want. Things will come back to normal next week and we'll have a full squad to pick from," he said.

Among those getting close to figuring in the selection picture are prop Tony Woodcock and utility back Isaia Toeava, both scheduled to play provincial rugby next week.

Woodcock, who has been sidelined since April with a foot injury, is set to feature for North Harbour against Manawatu on Tuesday. Toeava, whose hip injury has kept him off the rugby field since May, is set to play 40 minutes for Auckland against Taranaki on Sunday.

Israel Dagg, despite taking a full part in All Blacks training this week, was still not ready to play for Hawke's Bay, Hansen said.

The All Blacks and Springboks name their test sides on Thursday.


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