Wynne Gray on sport

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: 100th test honour should be saved for McCaw

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Richie McCaw. Photo / Annie McDougall
Richie McCaw. Photo / Annie McDougall

Whatever plans the All Black selectors have, I hope they allow captain Richie McCaw to become the first player to play 100 tests for New Zealand.

A shade sentimental, perhaps, but he is the longest-serving All Black, he is the captain and, fitness permitting, it would be an extra mark of respect to the revered loose forward.

That outcome may not be possible as the selectors juggle their squad through the overseas tests against the Boks and Wallabies before the World Cup. Injury may take the decision away from the panel but it would seem hollow if McCaw was not first or at least equal first to that honour.

Maybe the selectors will dodge the emotion and just plough on, but somehow I doubt it.

Ten years ago they allowed Carl Hayman to cut the sideline chalk just ahead of another substitute, Mark Ranby, to become the 1000th All Black. That was a milestone in All Black history but 100 caps is mega. It is remarkable that no All Black has achieved the feat but it is probably a sign of the fierce competition and selection rivalry throughout the side's glittering history.

McCaw and Mils Muliaina have both accrued 97 caps for the All Blacks, McCaw after his debut against Ireland in 2001 and Muliaina after starting from the bench against England in 2003.

Hints from the selectors this week were that McCaw and Daniel Carter will bypass the All Blacks' next test against the Boks in Port Elizabeth and head straight for Brisbane and the last Tri-Nations test against the Wallabies before the World Cup. That may yet change as the selectors mull over their loose forward, five-eighths, captaincy cover and options for their touring squad to be announced on Friday.

Where that leaves Muliaina, who knows, but there are players the selectors need to see against the Springboks before they can finalise their World Cup squad the week after.

Fullback cover can come from Cory Jane, Israel Dagg or Isaia Toeava so Muliaina may also get a leave pass.

If that happens before McCaw, Muliaina and Carter resume against the Wallabies in Brisbane, that would allow the captain and fullback to play the opening World Cup game against Tonga then make their 100th appearance together in the next match against Japan.

It would free them up for the celebrations which would surround the achievement, knowing that they will still play and beat Japan comfortably, unlike the heat the following week against France.

So if Kieran Read leads an All Black squad to South Africa he might take Jane, Dagg, Toeava, Hosea Gear, Richard Kahui, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Slade, Piri Weepu and Jimmy Cowan in the backs with Jerome Kaino, Adam Thomson, Liam Messam, Ali Williams, Sam Whitelock, Jarrad Hoeata, John Afoa, Ben Franks, Wyatt Crockett, Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu and Andrew Hore alongside him in the pack.

That would leave Muliaina, Carter, Guildford, Andy Ellis, McCaw, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Ben Smith and Sitiveni Sivivatu to rest and recover from injury at home.

- NZ Herald

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