Wellington - All Blacks captain Richie McCaw looked short of fitness about 20 minutes into a practice match on Friday, but he and coach Steve Hansen felt satisfied he would be ready for their opening Rugby Championship clash against Australia on August 17.
McCaw has only recently returned to rugby after a six-month sabbatical and was expected to play the full 80 minutes of the match against the Canterbury and Wellington provincial sides at the Hutt Recreation Ground.
The 32-year-old, however, left the field after the first 40 minutes, when the All Blacks played Canterbury, and did not appear in the second 40-minute session against Wellington.
At one stage during the first half, he appeared to be sucking in lungfuls of air with both hands anchored to his hips.
Hookers Keven Mealamu and Andrew Hore deputised at openside flank for the second session.
"Fitness wise there was a bit of running there," a smiling McCaw said after the games, which were essentially a contested training session. "It certainly burned a bit, but not too bad."
After only 80 minutes in a lower level club game a month ago and two brief cameos for the Crusaders in their Super Rugby playoffs, McCaw was short of match play.
Hansen, however, said the plan had been for McCaw to only play the first 40 minutes of the game for the All Blacks, which aside from an injured Ma'a Nonu and rested Liam Messam, was essentially a first-choice selection.
"Yeah, we just wanted to get a good 40 out of him and energy wise he felt he could have gone on, but we felt that 40 was enough," Hansen said, before adding the match had been productive in giving several players whose teams had not made the Super Rugby playoffs game time before the Rugby Championship.
"That's exactly what we came for. We wanted a game that ebbed and flowed with intensity and physicality.
"We have had guys out for three or four weeks so we weren't too bothered by structures or skill execution it was more about getting out there and having 80 minutes on the track."
The new scrum laws, which are designed to nullify the initial impact, promote scrummaging and reduce the number of collapses were also used though neither of the three sides appeared to be able to get the hang of the new procedure.
The first scrum was reset three times and the provincial teams were constantly penalised, though Hansen said he felt that was because they were unable to hold the All Blacks front row up. McCaw, and then Kieran Read against Wellington, opted for more scrums.
"I think you can't expect it to be perfect straight away," McCaw said.
"From our point of view we need to keep working on it and making sure that we get better each time we get out there.
"We have taken away things that we need to work on and that's good."
McCaw said he would also take away things to work on, while the team would also attempt to improve their execution rate throughout the week after the game on Friday was littered with errors.
"It served a purpose. I would say we got a fair bit out of that," he added.
"A few guys haven't played in a while, myself included so it was about getting a run around.
"It was nice to get through 40 and hopefully ... just need a week's training, I'll be good to go."