Rugby: McCaw's eye on one more milestone at Ellis Park

By Wynne Gray

Richie McCaw during a New Zealand All Blacks training session at Wits University. Photo / Getty Images
Richie McCaw during a New Zealand All Blacks training session at Wits University. Photo / Getty Images

Richie McCaw has ticked off most marks in his illustrious test rugby career.

Most All Black tests, most successful international captain, first All Black to a century of test caps, first forward to 100 test points; the list is still building for McCaw, who returns from a knee ligament injury for his 120th test on Sunday against the Springboks.

The All Blacks named their side overnight with the only changes made in the pack. McCaw slots in as flanker, while Charlie Faumuina starts at tighthead prop. The other change on the bench sees Dane Coles come in as reserve hooker.

McCaw has played 21 tests against the All Blacks' greatest rival but has never played at South Africa's spiritual home at Ellis Park.

McCaw had a chance in 2004 but missed that year's Tri-Nations because of concussion. He was hurt in the first test against England and sat out the next but suffered a relapse when he returned against Argentina.

This year he damaged his medial knee ligament against Argentina and his chance of playing the Boks at Ellis Park looked marginal. But his superb fitness, powers of recovery and dedication have him on track to wear his No7 jersey again for the Rugby Championship decider at Ellis Park.

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised after McCaw's heroics during the march to World Cup success in 2011 when he played with a broken foot.

Now it appears it will take more than the infamous 1995 World Cup food poisoner Suzie to keep the All Black skipper out of this test.

McCaw's first test against the Boks in 2002 was nearly as dramatic when he caught a beer-fuelled spectator who avoided security at Durban and tackled referee David McHugh, dislocating his shoulder. Play was held up for 10 minutes while McHugh was assisted from the field and replacement official Chris White suited up for the rest of the match - which the All Blacks won 30-23.

Two years later when they played at Ellis Park and were well beaten 40-26, McCaw watched the game on television as Marty Holah played on the openside. The All Blacks have not played at the stadium since.

Keven Mealamu is the only current All Black who experienced the on-field fury that afternoon in Johannesburg because Andrew Hore did not make it off the bench.

"Beating the Springboks at Ellis Park is a new challenge for most of the team. We need to put history aside and make sure this team is ready to go," said Mealamu.

After some difficulties with the Boks in his first year coaching at international level, Heyneke Meyer's side put together eight successive victories until they were beaten 29-15 by the All Blacks in the controversial test at Eden Park.

McCaw was absent and his return will put more pressure on the Boks' loose trio and referee Nigel Owens.

"It will make the breakdown contest bigger for us but we've been working hard at the breakdown to achieve what we want to. They've always had good loose forwards, but we do as well, and we can match them," Willem Alberts said.

All Blacks (tests in brackets):
1. Tony Woodcock (103)
2. Andrew Hore (80)
3. Charlie Faumuina (12)
4. Brodie Retallick (19)
5. Samuel Whitelock (46)
6. Liam Messam (25)
7. Richie McCaw - captain (119)
8. Kieran Read (56)
9. Aaron Smith (20)
10. Aaron Cruden (24)
11. Julian Savea (16)
12. Ma'a Nonu (83)
13. Conrad Smith (74)
14. Ben Smith (20)
15. Israel Dagg (32)

Reserves:
16. Dane Coles (9)
17. Wyatt Crockett (18)
18. Ben Franks (27)
19. Steven Luatua (4)
20. Sam Cane (11)
21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow (9)
22. Beauden Barrett (12)
23. Charles Piutau (5)

- NZ Herald

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