Rugby World Cup 2011

McCaw 'good to go' for semi

2011-10-15 06:53
Richie McCaw (Gallo Images)

New Zealand - All Blacks captain Richie McCaw says his injured foot is "good" and he's fully fit for Sunday's Rugby World Cup semifinal against Australia which, he says, is not just another game.

Rugby teams often try to manage the hype around matches as important as Sunday's by using the phrase "just another game" almost as an incantation.

After telling reporters "I'm good to go" after a week in which injury prevented him from taking more than a small part in All Blacks' practice sessions, McCaw wasn't about to understate the importance of Sunday's match.

He told reporters on Saturday "you're dead right, it's not another game."

"We acknowledge that for a start but usually when you talk about another game, you can't go away from what gets you ready for Sunday," McCaw said. "The way you train and the things you've got to do during the week you've got to make sure are pretty similar or the same.

"I think when you get into tomorrow night, what's different is the excitement and obviously what's at the end. The big thing is not to let that get on top of you and inhibit you from going out and playing well.

"And I think that's been the big thing this week, to make sure we go about our processes of getting ready to play the way you train. But (also) being excited about it because it is a World Cup semifinal. I think the balance is getting that right so it's not another game but you have to do a lot of the things exactly the same to ensure you perform."

All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith agreed with McCaw and said coaches had to manage emotions as they prepared the team for Sunday's match.

"From a coach's point of view you've almost got to have an opposite emotion," he said. "You have a tendency to want to do more as the games get up to this level but you actually have to do a wee bit less because a lot of the emotion and the excitement's already there.

"For me it's been a matter of getting the routines as normal, doing the homework but just keeping it all in check."

McCaw acknowledged the danger, in the week before a major match, of players becoming too excited and leaving their best form on the training field. He said the All Blacks were aware of that possibility and had carefully managed preparation to ensure they didn't "play the match on Thursday."

"I think guys have been pretty good and I think the coaches and senior players acknowledge that that's been the case," he said. "You didn't want to get over-hyped but you want to use the excitement as an opportunity to make sure you go out and perform well.

"I think getting that balance right was key and I think the way we've built up this week was good. The guys have been excited but not over the top but you can feel there is a feeling there. We know we're in for a big match and we're looking forward to it."

McCaw said it was still valuable for the All Blacks to tap into the wider, public excitement as an adjunct to their match preparation. It wasn't possible to live in a bubble, to be unaware of that excitement, he said, but exposure to it had to be carefully controlled unless it became overwhelming.

"I think you learn to put that to the side and use bits of the excitement," he said. "You go down to the lobby of the hotel and there are people around, people coming in from all over to watch the game and I think that adds a bit of excitement and keeps reminding you what you're in for.

"But from my point of view you understand what you need to do to play on Sunday, you understand that and it's being able to keep reminding yourself this is what I have to go through this week so I'm ready to play. And the occasion and things will just add a little bit so hopefully you'll play that little bit better."

Smith said the All Blacks were well aware of the threat posed by the Wallabies and had worked hard to ensure they were able to answer it on Sunday. New Zealand lost to Australia when the teams last met during the Tri-Nations and that had emphasized, as much as the coaches could, the respect the Australians merited.

"They're a dangerous team in that they're less predictable in an attacking sense, they've got young players who are confident, they're playing with a lot of freedom so you've got threats right across the park," he said. "You've got young players who will offload and attack from anywhere.

"From that perspective it puts your defense under a lot of pressure so you've got to make sure your systems are good. I think at this stage of the season, this stage of the tournament a lot of it comes down to your willpower and your attitude. I think it will be a best of that tomorrow as much as strategy."

Smith said he wasn't daunted by the challenge faced by New Zealand in the semifinal or the final, if it won on Saturday.

"I just see it as a great opportunity," he said. "It hasn't been done for 24 years by a New Zealand team and to me that's just opportunity. It's going to happen at some point and we've got a chance to make it happen so I'm really excited about that."


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