Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Leaders thin on ground for Sanzar rivals

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Richie McCaw. Photo / Getty Images
Richie McCaw. Photo / Getty Images

The All Blacks and Ireland will be led next month by men who have each played more than a 100 tests.

Richie McCaw and Brian O'Driscoll are two of the most accomplished leaders and players in the global game and will resume their rivalry in the three-test series in New Zealand.

McCaw has played 103 tests and captained the All Blacks 66 times while O'Driscoll has 123 test caps after 117 appearances for Ireland - including 80 as skipper - and another six for the Lions.

Unless either stumbles this week, Ireland will arrive on Friday with O'Driscoll wearing the captain's armband while McCaw needs to negotiate the Crusaders match with the Highlanders to be picked as skipper of the All Black squad on Sunday.

All is not so rosy in Australia or South Africa though as the Sanzar rivals work through their captaincy choices.

The Wallabies have lost James Horwill for some time with a hamstring injury and coach Robbie Deans had already jettisoned former skipper Rocky Elsom from his June test squad.

It seems Force flanker David Pocock will wear the captain's armband when the Wallabies begin their test programme against Scotland before turning their gaze towards three tests against Wales as a prelude to the initial Bledisloe Cup test in Sydney on August 18.

Halfback Will Genia also looms as someone who would handle the leadership demands.

The Springboks do not have a ready replacement for John Smit who has retired after lengthy service for his country.

Former Bulls coach Heyneke Meyer has graduated to the top job and was keen to recycle retired lock Victor Matfield for the three tests against England. But that notion has been stymied by regulations and a lack of enthusiasm from the South African Rugby Union.

Two other senior candidates, Schalk Burger and Juan Smit, are still unavailable. Smit has not recovered from Achilles tendon damage this season and Burger's recovery from a knee operation is taking longer than anticipated.

One possible contender is halfback Fourie du Preez who has been playing in Japan and is keen to help the Boks again.

Midfield back Jean de Villiers appears to have plenty of support after the way he has led the Stormers in Burger's absence but backs and captaincy have not always been a soothing mix for South Africa and his locking teammate Andries Bekker might get some support.

Bismarck du Plessis is an abrasive leader with the Sharks whose play resembles much of the venom Sean Fitzpatrick brought to the All Blacks.

If Meyer wants an independent follow-me type of leader with a strong rugby brain, who is guaranteed his place, he might think strongly about du Plessis.

- NZ Herald

Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

NZ Herald senior rugby writer Wynne Gray has been covering the All Blacks for almost 25 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

Read more by Wynne Gray

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