Three questions: How big a loss is McCaw?

The Herald's three rugby writers Gregor Paul, Wynne Gray and Patrick McKendry answer the key questions following Richie McCaw's withdrawal from Saturday's test against Australia.

How much does this weaken the All Blacks?
Gregor Paul: Losing R.H. McCaw is never ideal. But the strength of this All Black side is that they have learned to play without him. Kieran Read's captaincy is strong and inspiring while Sam Cane showed in his last two outings he's a test class openside. Cory Jane was a step into the unknown as it was given his lack of football this year - so arguably the risk has been lessened with the elevation fo Charles Piutau.

Wynne Gray: McCaw is the best in the world and an inspiring leader so there will be some damage. But Sam Cane is on the rise and Kieran Read is in awesome form to carry his men forward.

Patrick McKendry: McCaw's absence is a significant loss - he is still streets ahead of Sam Cane. Jane too will be missed, although more for the experience he would have provided outside Ben Smith than any potentially game-breaking impact.

Jane has played so little rugby this year it was always a tall order slotting him in against the Wallabies.

Is Charles Piutau ready to start?
GP: Yes. He's quietly impressed in his appearances off the bench. Doesn't seem at all inhibited by test football and could show his full range of skills if given 80 minutes.. He's a natural footballer with plenty of experience on the wing - and his exposure to fullback will only help.

WG: Piutau is an exciting capable footballer and this opportunity will excite rather than unnerve him in any way. He is more than ready.

PM: Yes, he has impressed during his six substitute appearances. He particularly caught the eye in the All Blacks' victory over the Boks in Auckland, at that time the biggest test of his career. Piutau wasn't daunted the slightest - he'll take that same direct approach tomorrow night.

What will the Wallabies take from this?
GP: They will believe - perhaps rightly - that the All Blacks will be a little unsettled, in an already short preparation week, by this late change. They will fancy Michael Hooper can win the battle on the ground and that Piutau's lack of experience could be exposed. They are Aussies - they will believe what they feel they need to.

WG: The Wallabies will take any help they can get and McCaw's absence will be a psychological boost for a side who have been tormented too many times by the All Black captain

PM: They need all the help they can get, so plenty. Much will be made of McCaw's absence, in particular. Quade Cooper might be feeling slightly happier about things.

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