Friday, September 14, 2012
All Blacks skipper McCaw prioritises substance over style
(Reuters) - Despite lifting the World Cup, enjoying a 13-match winning run and on target to claim the inaugural Rugby Championship title, New Zealand captain Richie McCaw found himself countering criticism over his side's lack of style.
Three wins from three put the All Blacks on top of the pile ahead of their test against South Africa in Dunedin on Saturday but instead of basking in the glory of victories over Australia and Argentina, McCaw was asked when performances would improve.
A scrappy opening win over Australia in Sydney was followed by a 22-0 shutout over the same opponents in Auckland, the first time in 50 years the Wallabies had failed to score a point against the All Blacks.
But the Auckland win could have been by a much bigger margin had the All Blacks not squandered a hatful of opportunities and their attacking threat was stifled for long periods by the Pumas pack last week.
Five tries in three matches has been a concern for many but not for the experienced McCaw, who has played over 100 tests for his country.
"We're going out there to win, that's first and foremost," the flanker told reporters after the captain's run on Friday.
"I suppose how we do that is our performance and if it's good to watch or not, that's sort of secondary.
"We realise we've got guys with skill and strengths we want to be able to use. Putting all that aside, we want to improve as a team every week and we've done that in stages but haven't put it together yet.
"But you play test matches to win. Some days they're going to be tough and messy and if you're good enough to come out on the right side, so be it."
The need for a show-stopping display is fuelled by local media and a passionate public, who feel that South Africa are a weaker side than in years gone by and one that should be easily swatted aside under the roof in Dunedin.
The Springboks began the tournament well with victory over debutants Argentina but then struggled to eke out an away draw to the same opponents before a disappointing second half last week saw them fall to an injury-ravaged Australia.
Coach Heyneke Meyer, who came close to destroying a walkie-talkie out of frustration during that defeat, has maintained the same forward-orientated game plan that his predecessors have used, backed by the tactical kicking of flyhalf Morne Steyn.
That strategy, however, has yet to yield the required results and Springboks skipper Jean de Villiers said the team needed to possess a greater belief in themselves.
"After the first loss as a team and a couple of disappointing performances before that, the pressure is definitely on us," the centre told reporters.
"It is in these tough times that we need to pull together as a team and believe in the systems that have been put in place and also believe in where we're heading as a team."
De Villiers was full of praise for Saturday's opponents, picking out their nine-try 60-0 demolition of Ireland in the third test in June as an example of what could happen if the All Blacks clicked into top gear.
"They have been the top side for a long time now and they showed last year coming through and winning the World Cup," he added.
"This year, they really have been fantastic at times. I think back to that last test against Ireland and the 22-0 against Australia. Those types of results are pretty special and they're probably not firing on all cylinders.
"It's a great challenge for us, but from a pressure point of view, it's the pressure you put on yourself and we'll be doing that every single week to up our performance and to play better for the country."
(Reporting by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by John O'Brien)