Bruised star makes big impact

DUBLIN - Richard McCaw kicked into touch any doubts as to whether he was up to test rugby, with a man-of-the-match debut against Ireland at Lansdowne Road.

His schoolboy hero, loose forward great Josh Kronfeld, had criticised McCaw's selection in the 30-strong tour squad, saying that one NPC season did not make an All Black.

McCaw, with only 17 NPC games to his name, repaid the faith coach John Mitchell had in him by climbing back into a torrid test after taking some big Irish tackles early on.

"She was a hell of a game," said the openside flanker, a bruise forming on his left cheek evidence of Ireland's physical approach.

"All the hits were pretty big, in the first 20 minutes they threw everything at us.

"Everyone talks about it's a big step up. It was a hell of a step up ... the first 20 minutes were gone before I knew it.

"I thought 'crikey, I've got to do something here'. It didn't help that they were scoring points either."

The game was a steep learning curve for himself and the team, he said.

"The big thing is not to panic, because if you start to panic then things go real bad.

"Once we got into the game and started holding the ball it came right."

Mitchell was "very happy" with the performances of new caps McCaw and second five-eighth Aaron Mauger.

"We put faith in them from day one," Mitchell said.

"Richie probably had an indifferent start, but it just shows the calibre of the kid, he never let it get to him. I think we'll see more of this lad."

McCaw was able to steal ball from Ireland in the second half, setting in motion a try to left wing Jonah Lomu.

But he found getting to the loose ball harder than he imagined.

"They were very good at sealing off their own pill. They were there a lot quicker than I've been used to. But she came right in the end.

"It was a hell of a stadium to play at, a real rugby stadium, a big crowd - something I'll always remember, very special."

- NZPA

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