All Blacks captain Richie McCaw has declared there can be no excuses for his side in Saturday’s Rugby Championship decider against Australia and warns they’re in for a tough night if they don’t improve.
The world champions lacked trademark fluency in international season-opening wins against Samoa, Argentina and South Africa, as coach Steve Hansen experimented with players and tinkered with combinations.
McCaw, who will equal Irishman Brian O’Driscoll’s record of 141 Test caps on Saturday at ANZ Stadium, said there was an edgy mood around the squad as 41 players battled for 31 World Cup spots.
“Being able to win and still give the guys a crack and perhaps not have the fluency we’d like, hopefully we’re getting a real positive out of it,” McCaw said.
“But I think everyone has had a dig now and there’s no real excuses for that any more.
“We need to put a good performance here tomorrow night because if we don’t it will be a tough old night.”
Like Hansen, McCaw wasn’t surprised Wallabies coach Michael Cheika was starting both of his openside flankers Michael Hooper and David Pocock.
“I suppose having both out on the field makes sense from their point of view with the way they are playing, so I kind of expected it…it doesn’t really change a lot how we operate,” McCaw said.
Renowned for his peerless play at the breakdown, McCaw emphasised it would need a collective effort to nullify the twin threat from Pocock and Hooper, who will play at No.8 and openside flanker respectively.
“I don’t think it’s just me. I think you realise the breakdown is an area that’s hotly contested, whether there’s one or two (of them),” McCaw said.
“Everyone has an impact there these days, but those two are certainly pretty accurate at that.”
The All Blacks have noted Cheika’s injection of physicality into the Wallabies play.
“Just looking at the first couple of game especially the South Africa game it was a pretty brutal Test match,” McCaw said.
“It was pretty willing at the contact area and that’s an area they have put a lot of effort into.
“They’ve been talking about bashing each other at training, which probably indicated that’s what they are doing.
“But at the end of the day the same players have played other years, so it comes down to winning those physical battles.”
He said the return of veteran backs Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell from overseas to the Wallaby ranks would bring a sense of calmness to their team.
“They are playing pretty good rugby to be back in the team and it looks like they are excited about getting a chance again, so they’ve probably added something,” McCaw said.”