Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: McCaw cautiously optimistic on Mealamu

Keven Mealamu. Photo / Getty Images
Keven Mealamu. Photo / Getty Images

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw is cautiously optimistic that Keven Mealamu will add to his 92 test caps in next month's test series against Ireland.

Mealamu has been hampered by a calf injury all season at the Blues and hasn't played in the past five matches for his struggling franchise. The recurring nature of the injury in particular is worrying All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.

The hooker was due to have scans on Sunday but the results have not been released to the media. However, the sight of him training with the rest of the All Blacks at North Harbour Stadium this morning has pleased McCaw and the coaches.

Mealamu packed down in a front row several times and fully stretched his calf, which was free of strapping.

"I think he's coming right so that's good news," McCaw said. "He's been a bit frustrated having to watch, so it's good to see him not too far off playing.

"What he did say to me is that he's starting to feel good and he's hoping to be not too far off."

The 33-year-old is one test from overtaking Sean Fitzpatrick as the most capped All Blacks hooker.

Andrew Hore is the only other hooker in the 35-player training squad for the Ireland tests, the first of which is at Eden Park on June 9.

Another, either Corey Flynn, Hika Elliot or Dane Coles, is likely to be added to the squad for the next training camp in Wellington starting on Sunday.

McCaw is hoping Mealamu gets the green light but said the most important thing was getting his niggling injury right.

"To have a guy with 90-odd tests to be available is pretty important really. But if he's not, he's not and he's got to make sure he gets that right because there's a fair bit of rugby to go this year."

The inclusion of Mealamu would add an extra frisson to the tests, given the selection in the Ireland touring squad of Brian O'Driscoll, who has missed much of the season with a shoulder and neck injury.

It was Mealamu and Tana Umaga who ended O'Driscoll's 2005 British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand in the first minute of the first test in Christchurch when tipping him up in a ruck clearout which dislocated his shoulder.

While O'Driscoll, named as captain, has said there were no hard feelings towards the pair, the media and supporters in the northern hemisphere haven't been as quick to forgive.

"We've had some good battles with Brian over the years, so I'm sure he'll be looking forward to coming back here," was as far as McCaw wanted to take the matter today.

Also named in the Ireland squad are three uncapped players, Ulster prop Declan Fitzpatrick and Munster pair Mike Sherry, a hooker, and Simon Zebo, a winger.

Experienced lock Paul O'Connell has not been named but could yet make the travelling party, with coach Declan Kidney to add another prop, lock, loose forward and halfback to the final touring squad.

O'Connell, the Munster captain with 85 test caps, has been out of action since he suffered a knee injury on May 5.

As the Auckland training camp, which began on Sunday, reaches its conclusion, McCaw said it was a worthwhile experience.

"We haven't tried to cover everything, just ticked off a few things to make it easier when we come together ... for the first test because five days isn't long to get yourself under control for a test match."

With Sunday consisting of a recovery session and meetings, yesterday and today catered for more field-based work and it was interesting to note the inclusion of former All Black prop Carl Hoeft helping out in the scrums. Former All Blacks scrum coach Mike Cron is now the forwards coach.

McCaw said Hoeft, who has helped at the Chiefs this season and returned to New Zealand late last year after playing in France, was offering a few new ideas.

"Just some things he had seen through his experiences playing overseas that they were having a look at. It's good to see Hoefty back, I haven't seen him for a while," McCaw said.

Ireland squad:

Backs: Darren Cave, Gordon D'Arcy, Keith Earls, Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Conor Murray, Brian O'Driscoll (c), Ronan O'Gara, Eoin Reddan, Jonathan Sexton, Andrew Trimble, Simon Zebo.

Forwards: Rory Best, Sean Cronin, Stephen Ferris, Declan Fitzpatrick, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien, Donncha O'Callaghan, Peter O'Mahony, Mike Ross, Donnacha Ryan, Mike Sherry, Dan Tuohy.

- APNZ

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