Richie McCaw needs to spearhead an inspired performance from the All Blacks when they take on France in Saturday’s quarter-final in Cardiff, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
McCaw, much like the All Blacks so far at this World Cup, hasn’t quite been at his absolute best. An injury niggle saw him miss the final pool game against Tonga, but he now returns to his regular spot in the loose trio.
The All Blacks skipper has always epitomised the clichéd ‘leading by example’, but often it has been through his inspired performances that the Kiwis have maintained an aura of invincibility.
That aura has been lacking somewhat so far, with the world champs in cruise control without ever being entirely convincing ever since battling past Argentina in the opening game.
Depending on whether you see the glass as half full or half empty, it could be that the All Blacks are simply simmering before sparking into life during the business end of the tournament, or it could be that they aren’t quite clicking as one would expect.
I’d lean towards the former, as this is a team that has proven over the years that they can turn it on when it matters most.
There were such telling moments around the hour mark during both relatively competitive pool games against Argentina and Tonga, when it seemed the All Blacks looked each other in the eye and decided ‘enough is enough’. And indeed, it was during a dominant final quarter that they put the results beyond doubt.
However, in a knockout match the pressure is entirely different. The All Blacks will know that they can’t afford to allow a side like France to still be in with a sniff during the latter stages of the match. That lesson they learned the hard way in 2007.
During the last World Cup final, the All Blacks also had to rely on some undeniable good fortune to hold France at bay during a nervy finish.
This time around they’ll be hoping for a far more convincing display against a French side as dangerous as ever.
Indeed, if France can remain disciplined on defence (watch out for tackling machine Thierry Dusautoir) and then find some rhythm on attack, they could produce some more moments of World Cup magic.
However, with McCaw back at the helm, the All Blacks skipper should be able to bring the best out of those around him, with the likes of Kieran Read, Conrad Smith and Ben Smith all needing to step up and make their mark.
If that happens, there can only be one winner and, lest we forget, it’s the winner of the game in Cardiff that will set up a semi-final date with either the Boks or Wales.
McCAW’S STATS THAT MATTER
92% – Tackle success rate during the World Cup pool stage
59 – Metres in carries
6 – Carries over gainline
HEAD TO HEAD
All Blacks 42, France 12, Draw 1
All Blacks – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Sonny Bill Williams.
France – 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Alexandre Dumoulin, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Brice Dulin, 10 Frédéric Michalak, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Bernard le Roux, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Papé, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Eddy Ben Arous.
Subs: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Nicolas Mas, 19 Damien Chouly, 20 Yannick Nyanga, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Rémi Talès, 23 Mathieu Bastareaud.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), John Lacey (Ireland)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Photo: Andrew Cornaga/Photosport