Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

McCaw a selection headache

By WYNNE GRAY in Wellington

The saga of Richie McCaw's continuing health problems overshadowed what should have been a straightforward announcement yesterday of the All Black side to defend the Bledisloe Cup on Saturday against the Wallabies.

It also interrupted Craig Newby's morning in Auckland as he took a phone call requesting him to join the side in Wellington as cover for the unwell All Black vice-captain.

Coach Graham Henry said the side needed a specialist reserve flanker against what was "perhaps the best team in the world".

McCaw was involved in several sessions with the All Blacks after the Pacific Islanders test with scant evidence he was still troubled after being concussed during the opening test against England a month ago.

But the openside flanker complained of further symptoms yesterday and the management decided to call on Newby, who took the field as a substitute in the second test against England.

"Richie does not feel too sharp," Henry said. "He has had headaches from time to time, he just does not feel anywhere near 100 per cent. He trained yesterday [Monday] but this morning he was not as good as he has been in the past couple of days.

"It is annoying for him, and frustrating for everyone, but we have got to live with that and get through it. I can't be more explicit than that."

McCaw has been seen by specialists. He is under constant attention, but his recovery might take some time and the All Blacks have to be patient.

That uncertain diagnosis has changed the outlook given after Carisbrook when the All Blacks listed McCaw to play the second test at Eden Park and withdrew him officially only on the morning of the international.

There was an element of subterfuge that week, but McCaw was chosen for the next test against Argentina before succumbing to more problems in the lead-in to the historic test against the Pacific Islanders and again this week.

The Herald understands McCaw was hurt when he collided with fellow loose-forward Xavier Rush at Dunedin and later remembered little of large chunks of that test.

He subsequently passed psychometric tests on his concussion, but some side-effects lingered.

"Whenever you lose a class rugby player, and Richie is one of the best in the world, there is a loss," forwards coach Steve Hansen said. "But we are very fortunate to have Marty Holah to take his place."

Holah plays a similar style to McCaw. He had an outstanding game against the Pacific Islanders and his inclusion would not mean a great deal of tinkering with the team's style.

Right-wing Doug Howlett has returned from his dislocated shoulder problem to take over from Rico Gear.

Howlett said he had resumed full contact work only this week, but his shoulder felt strong.

Henry agreed that the All Blacks had dropped off in their intensity since the twin tests against England. If they did not regain that venom to play near their top potential, "we will be second on Saturday".

Hansen said it was a test where everyone had to be switched on totally to compete.

The Wallaby lineout was a huge weapon where they used variety such as five-man formations, or used an extra halfback with Radike Samo.

The All Blacks had improved, but they had to compete much more to disrupt Wallaby possession or the rhythm of that delivery.

Samo was a great athlete, a third jumper who had been introduced, a player who had the x-factor and had to be contained.

Henry acknowledged the great success of the Wallabies in the last decade and the respect they always merited. "I thought they were superb against England and played their best game in the last six weeks against them."

The Wallabies name their side today.

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