Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: McCaw a magnet for trouble

But All Black skipper knows there's a long road ahead and could do without being a target for thugs who do not possess his talent

Rested, rehabilitated and ready, Richie McCaw will begin his final career ascent tonight, determined to push on and lead the All Blacks in a successful World Cup defence.

It is a classic case of so near yet so far - just two more years in a career that has already spanned 13. But it's the fact that McCaw has been at this lark since 2001 and that he's approaching 33 which makes everyone a little cautious about his chances.

But it's also the certainty that between now and 2015 he'll be subjected to a litany of cheap shots - off the ball assaults - that adds to the doubt.

There are bits of McCaw discarded on grounds around the world and inevitably further chunks will be taken as the insane and less talented are charged with doing what they can to stop this great warrior.

His rugby genius is not universally appreciated. His ability to intersperse the illegal with the legal has induced many an opponent to seek retribution.

His relentless brilliance is a magnet for trouble - those not blessed with his range of skills fill their heads with evil thoughts that lead to evil deeds.

Stop McCaw, stop the All Blacks - he is their everything and the Wallabies will be after him tonight. They will fancy he's undercooked, that he can be run off his feet.

And if they can't flood him in a pool of his own lactic acid, they will no doubt hold him on the floor where they can; clatter into his undefended areas at the breakdown; bump him, push him and let him know they don't buy this vision of him as a saint.

If past history is anything to go by, they will be prepared to go further if they feel they have to. McCaw can't remember the last time he played the Wallabies without a target on his back. But whatever awaits; whatever plan the Wallabies have in store for him, he's going to relish being the focus of attention again: he's had almost nine months away from test football and he missed it.

"You come to a ground like here [ANZ Stadium in Sydney] and the excitement is pretty high," he said yesterday. "I can't wait to get into it. I'd quite like to go 80 - I'd like to go as long as I can.

"I feel mentally in good shape but I know nothing compares with the intensity of test rugby. I have to make sure I do the job I am out there to do. If you look at the last time we played the Wallabies, we were lucky to get a draw so it's about putting a performance together."

He gives the impression he's genuinely intrigued by what the Wallabies might try tactically. He has never been drawn much previously on the litany of cheap shots and bad blood between the two sides, yet it's obvious he'd rather it all stopped. Not that it bothers him much, more that it bores him. That's the advantage of having been around for as long as he has, he knows that come kick-off tonight, all the build-up, hype, verbal promises and so-called mind games that the Wallabies think matter, don't have any effect.

"We will find out tomorrow I guess," he said in regard to what he expects to encounter under new coach Ewen McKenzie. "There is no doubt that coming off the Lions, having a change of voice, no matter what it is, is going to add something.

"But they are the same players at the end of the day that we have played before in tests and in Super rugby."

10 cheapest shots on captain

1. August 19, 2006
New Zealand 34 Australia 27, Auckland

McCaw at full tilt, dipped his shoulder and ran at Lote Tuqiri in the final Bledisloe Cup clash in 2006. The Wallaby wing lifted him and drove the skipper head first into the turf. It was only luck that McCaw avoided serious injury. Tuqiri was later cited and given an 11-week suspension.

2. June 12, 2010
New Zealand 66-28 Ireland, New Plymouth

Irish No8 Jamie Heaslip had what he would later call a "brain fart" when one minute into the first test of 2010, he dropped his knee into McCaw's face for no particular reason. He was sent off.

3. July 17, 2010
New Zealand 31-17 South Africa, Wellington

Early in the game McCaw was lying face down on the ground. That was enough to enrage Springbok lock Dannie Rossouw who dropped a knee into the small of the skipper's back and earned himself an immediate yellow card.

4. October 30, 2010
New Zealand 24-26 Australia, Hong Kong

This was the beginning of the feud with Quade Cooper. The Wallaby smashed McCaw off the ball at a ruck and then when Australia won in the last minute, Cooper shoved McCaw over and screamed in his face.

5. November 6, 2010
England 16-26 New Zealand, London

Determined to prove himself as a hard man, Kiwi-born Dylan Hartley came off the bench at Twickenham in 2010 and headed straight for McCaw.

The skipper was legally foraging when Hartley clobbered him in the face with a raised elbow. Amazingly the hooker wasn't cited.

6. November 27, 2010
Wales 25-37 New Zealand, Cardiff

In the closing minutes, McCaw took a short pass close to a ruck at full lick. Wales No8 Andy Powell came across and hit him high - around the face hard with a swinging arm. McCaw was hurt - he took his time getting up.

7. October 23, 2011
New Zealand 8-7 France, Auckland

Late in the World Cup final, French centre Aurelien Rougerie snapped. He obviously decided if referee Craig Joubert couldn't sort out McCaw - he would. He dived into a ruck and the video footage was damning - he eye-gouged the skipper as McCaw would later confirm. His vision was blurred for the last few minutes.

8. August 27, 2011
Australia 25-20 New Zealand, Brisbane

Getting back to his feet, McCaw was smashed in the face "accidentally" by the knee of Quade Cooper. The Wallaby first-five was cited but exonerated. It didn't hurt ... it was just annoying.

9. September 15, 2012
New Zealand 21-11 South Africa, Dunedin

McCaw appeared trapped on his knees in a ruck midway through the second half when Springbok prop Dean Greyling charged in and launched himself head first. He hit McCaw in the jaw - nearly took his head. A few days later McCaw announced he'd be taking a sabbatical.

10. October 20, 2012
Australia 18-18 New Zealand, Brisbane

In an almost carbon-copy attack a year after Quade Cooper's Brisbane attack, Scott Higginbotham kneed McCaw in the face then as the two wrestled, the Wallaby loose forward landed a sneaky head-butt.

- NZ Herald

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