Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Character of captain on show in comeback

Despite lean buildup, McCaw silences doubters with relentless 70 minutes.

Richie McCaw staged an impressive return to test rugby despite a rusty start. Photo / Getty Images
Richie McCaw staged an impressive return to test rugby despite a rusty start. Photo / Getty Images

As Richie McCaw answered inquiries at the captain's run the day before the resumption of Bledisloe Cup conflict he mentioned his hope to play the entire match.

Only he knew if that was likely and whether his body would last the ramped-up onslaught of test rugby on a diet of lean matchplay minutes.

Eventually McCaw was subbed with eight minutes left and the All Blacks out of sight of the Wallabies.

He could have gone on but the mini-rest gave him time to fill his lungs and settle his thoughts for the post-match interviews.

Test 117 was done for McCaw, his body was intact but sore and the All Blacks had taken the first leg of the transtasman contests.

Shortly before the captain was subbed, one incident showed why his class has endured for so long. The Wallabies were gathering steam and were about 10m from the tryline but momentarily left the ball unprotected at the breakdown.

McCaw drove in, latched on to the ball and earned the penalty from referee Craig Joubert for the legitimate steal.

It was not always so. McCaw admitted his timing was a little rusty in the first quarter, and Joubert concurred.

"I was quite excited to be out there and running around for the first 20 minutes, I was getting a bit over-eager at times but settled into it. It was just good fun to be involved in running around again," he said.

About the only thing he wasn't aware of was that the All Blacks' victory doubled as their 100th test success against the Wallabies.

McCaw led the All Black intentions to slow the Wallaby ball at the rucks and while he was penalised a few times his work rate never relented.

The pressure he and the other forwards applied rarely let the Wallabies find a strong tempo.

It was an impressive return after so little rugby. Coach Steve Hansen did get a little carried away, though, in a week when he continued to poke some gentle fun at the Wallabies' start to the Ewen McKenzie era.

He prodded those who were uncertain about McCaw's comeback as if those misgivings were treasonous.

"The guy on my left, to come back after having a break, and everyone doubted him, but to get through to the 70 minutes like he did just shows the character of the bloke once again," Hansen said of his captain.

"So hopefully there won't be any more doubters."

When McCaw last led the All Blacks out against the Wallabies, in Brisbane last year, they were held to an 18-all stalemate.

It was a sloppy evening's work when the side failed to drive the nail through the Wallabies after two victories earlier in the year.

Rectifying that formed part of the All Black focus in Sydney on Saturday. It was time to make a statement after the 3-0 series win against the French in June, time to nail the Wallabies when they were making their coaching and playing transition.

McCaw and his senior men drove that intent, they collected their experience and playing skills and scorched the Wallabies.

They were by no means perfect. There were scrum and lineout malfunctions and plenty to improve on.

That should worry the Wallabies because they can be sure McCaw will be driving those improvements even harder this week.

- NZ Herald

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