Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Rusty McCaw fortunate Smith heading to Japan

Richie McCaw's lack of condition would suffer against George Smith if the pair were in Bledisloe Cup combat next week. Photo/Richard Robinson.
Richie McCaw's lack of condition would suffer against George Smith if the pair were in Bledisloe Cup combat next week. Photo/Richard Robinson.

Piri Weepu has some game but it does not suit the All Blacks.

His lack of endurance and speed found him fishing off the Wellington coast while his comrades were in test mode in the city.

Young guns TJ Perenara and Tawera Kerr-Barlow have overtaken the old man of the sea and joined the other speeding halfback Aaron Smith for the Rugby Championship.

Weepu was fortunate to survive last season with the All Blacks when his shape was more sea slug than the sea urchin it changed to this year. That was still not persuasive enough for the selectors, who went for the Beep test brigade.

They might get to level 20 on that rating but their games have been patchy for large chunks of the Super 15.

No drama. It is the selectors' team, they make the calls and deal with the outcomes.

But it does stir the athlete vs the rugby player debate.

There has been no clearer evidence of that comparison than the David Pocock-George Smith appraisals across the Ditch.

Pocock was the Brumbies' open side and Wallabies' skipper until he wrecked his knee early in the Super 15. There may not be anyone in the game who is as effective as Pocock at the breakdown.

His physique and technique let him crouch, touch and poach the opposition ball more than most while his close-in defence is brutally efficient.

Get Pocock away from the breakdown and he looks awkward.

It does not matter where Smith is, he looks unruffled. The 33-year-old is an instinctive hunter, a superb natural rugby talent with an engine on high revs.

Richie McCaw brought a similar impact in the pomp of his 116 tests.

His game has spread from being a lethal predator to a wide-ranging marauder with improved linking, lineout and leadership skills.

He is one of the All Black greats but his lack of condition would suffer against Smith if the pair were in Bledisloe Cup combat next week. Smith has been in imperious form while McCaw is starting his comeback.

A club game, several cameos from the bench for the Crusaders and 80 minutes this Friday in several All Black hit-outs are not yet the workload, even for McCaw, to challenge Smith.

Fortunately for the All Blacks, Smith is heading back to his contract in Japan. However Liam Gill or Michael Hooper will be a fierce challenge for McCaw when the Rugby Championship starts next Saturday in Sydney. McCaw will need all his super-sized willpower to get through that contest.

The word is he will get about an hour's work before he is subbed. Gill or Hooper might force an earlier decision if McCaw's speed, endurance or rust fall into the Weepu category.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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