Johannesburg - Captain Richie McCaw is "looking strong and ready to go" against the Springboks at Ellis Park, assistant coach Ian Foster said on Tuesday, boosting the All Blacks' hopes of clinching the Rugby Championship title at a ground where they haven't won in 16 years.
It's also a venue where the 119 times-capped McCaw has surprisingly never played a Test, but where he could add another significant achievement to a colossal career.
McCaw, missing for the All Blacks' last two matches — the home win over South Africa and away victory in Argentina — is on course to recover from a knee injury to start in Saturday's decider, Foster said.
Having travelled and trained with the team last week in Argentina, McCaw will have to come through full contact sessions in Johannesburg to prove his fitness.
"He's done well.
"He had a really good week last week in terms of his preparation and training," Foster said.
"Clearly we have got a couple of runs this week where he will be tested but he's looking strong and ready to go."
The experienced and canny flanker's expected return comes as the top-ranked All Blacks look to seal a 12th title in 18 seasons in style at a ground South Africa treasures because of its 1995 World Cup final win over its arch rival.
But it's also a stadium where the New Zealanders are especially motivated to succeed at.
"In the sheds after the (Argentina) game there was a sense that the boys are pretty excited for this challenge," flyhalf Aaron Cruden said.
"We know it's going to be a massive one, the Springboks at Ellis Park.
"Yeah, there's been a bit of talk about it."
While the famous '95 final often forms the backdrop for Tests at Ellis Park, New Zealand's record at the intimidating 65 000-seat cauldron is not great.
It last won there in 1997 and has lost three out of four since the '95 final.
The Springboks have always drawn inspiration from their achievements at Ellis, yet New Zealand has overcome almost every challenge and every big game it has faced since winning the World Cup two years ago.
"Yeah, we keep having lots of those (big games).
"The media keep telling us it's the next one, the big one," assistant coach Foster said.
"I'm not going to debate it.
"You can call it what you like.
"Quite frankly it is a big game.
"There's a title on the line, there's a whole lot of things on the line.
"We've had a few of those and we've just got to keep climbing the mountain."
Despite the All Blacks needing only a losing bonus point to win the Rugby Championship, Foster said there was no question they would still go for a sixth win from six in the competition: "We like getting the ball and playing.
"That's what we train for," he said.
Meanwhile, the Springboks have moved to play down the potential
impact of the return of McCaw.
"Richie is one of the all-time best players, we respect him for that but we're just going to focus on what we want to do.
"I hope it goes well for him," Springbok forwards coach Johan van Graan told reporters.