Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: McCaw inspirational in comeback

Presence is part of Richie McCaw's rugby authority. When he turns out in black, as he did on his return to test rugby last night, his appearance inspires and motivates.

He jogged back at the head of the All Black queue before turning on that unmistakable horsepower to grind it out once more with the Wallabies.

There were mistakes and his handling was not foolproof - that has never been the strongest part of his rugby armoury.

But that competitive fire which has stoked his career was roaring at its incendiary best.

He was penalised several times early for ruck infringements, either off his feet or illegal entry, but there was no backing down from the All Black captain. Not that we expected anything less.

He scored his 21st test try, and ninth against Australia, midway through the first half, going over in the corner.

No one other than McCaw knows what it takes to turn out his frame for a renewed stint at international rugby. He thought he would be keen but even he probably had some doubts about his capacity to get back to top quality.

He might have felt fresh but did he have the hunger, that raw appetite to scrabble and scrape and put himself through all the physical and mental pain of international rugby?

An opening half gave some of the answers. He was busting to get back into the fray but sensible enough not to charge around chasing too many lost causes.

When he was needed, though, McCaw was the same fearless, intense competitor in the tackle or at the breakdown, where he squeezed his body into gaps, seeking the ball and disrupting the Wallabies.

He was a menace there but also had the game sense to hold in other areas of the field, like the right wing, where he completed a great sequence of All Black pressure.

No one knew how long McCaw would last in his comeback. A best guess before the test was to expect a grunty hour from the skipper before he gave way to Sam Cane.

Instead he stayed on until the 72nd minute, retiring to the bench only after Ben Smith had completed his hat-trick and the All Blacks were leading by 25.

The All Black talisman was back.

Score:

Australia 29 (W. Genia, J. O'Connor tries; C. Leali'ifano 2 cons, 5 pens
New Zealand 47 (B. Smith (3), A. Cruden, R. McCaw, C. Smith tries; A. Cruden 4 cons, pen; B. Barrett con)

- Herald on Sunday

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