All Blacks, Canada take differing paths into match
Updated: October 01, 2011, 01:35
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WELLINGTON, New Zealand(AP) The separation between the great and the small in international rugby may be measured by the differing ambitions of Canada and New Zealand when they meet in a World Cup Pool A match on Sunday.
In the diplomatic dance that precedes such matches, neither the All Blacks nor Canada would speculate on the margin that will divide them.
New Zealand, in the established manner of a major rugby power about to play a lower-ranked team, expressed respect for Canada as an opponent it couldn't afford to take lightly. Canada reciprocated that respect and hoped its performance would bring it credit and even admiration.
But some of New Zealand's plans were spoiled on Saturday when captain Richie McCaw, then flyhalf Daniel Carter were ruled out of the match with injuries. McCaw suffered a recurrence of a "niggly'' foot injury. Carter, who had been named to replace McCaw as captain, strained his groin during kicking practice later Saturday.
The loss of New Zealand's two key players jeopardized its hope to use Sunday's match to build momentum towards next weekend's quarterfinals. Both McCaw and Carter and central to New Zealand's World Cup plans and even their temporary loss through injury is disquieting to Kiwi rugby fans.
Victor Vito comes in for McCaw and Colin Slade will stand in for Carter at No. 10.
Canada and New Zealand enter Sunday's match on divergent paths - New Zealand heading toward a quarterfinal likely against either Scotland or Argentina and Canada soon to head home with one win under its belt from four pool matches.
Canada coach Kieran Crowley is a former All Blacks fullback steeped in the New Zealand tradition of never taking it easy on any opponent. He sees an All Blacks team fired by competition between players for selection in the knockout rounds and expects a test of the improvement he has perceived in his team since the World Cup began.
Crowley said whatever the outcome Sunday, Canada would measure itself by its own, internal standards. He is happy with his team's achievements so far, embracing three of rugby's possible outcomes: a win over Tonga, a respectable loss to France and a draw with Japan.
Though he has to nurse his bone-weary team into its last match only five days after the draw with Japan, he was confident of its commitment and determination to compete.
Asked to forecast a scoreline, Crowley grinned and replied: "I'd be happy with 21-20 to us with three converted tries.''
"You look at respectable scorelines,'' he said. "In today's game you can get a couple of bounces of the ball which don't go your way or a referee's decision that goes against you and suddenly you've lost by 20 points.
"We've got some goals within our team, some (indicators) and we reckon if we can hit three out of four of those, we're right in the ballgame. So that's going to be a challenge for us.
"When we sit down and review the game afterwards that's how we'll measure our performance.''
Crowley's knowledge of the All Blacks, based on his own experience, leaves him reluctant to foresee miracles. He sees an All Blacks team of formidable strength, determined to produce a performance which gives it momentum as it heads into the quarterfinals with an unbeaten record from pool play.
"People ask me if we're going to attack any weaknesses,'' he said. "Well, you don't have weaknesses when you're the All Blacks or South Africa.
"Against these teams you've just got to look at your own game and try to get that in order and attack certain areas where you think there might be a little bit of a creak in the structure.''
Canada has also to contend with an All Blacks team determined to mark milestones: the 100th test of its head coach Graham Henry and the 99th of fullback Mils Muliaina.
Of Henry's milestone, Crowley said, "That's a great achievement isn't it, particularly in this day and age when players survive and coaches don't.
"They have a really experienced, good coaching team. Graham's been around for a while now and he certainly knows everything about it. Congratulations to him for it.''
Henry acknowledged the "privilege'' of coaching New Zealand in 100 tests.
"It's special and I'm proud of that. To do that 100 times is also special, but it might be a sign of madness as well,'' he said.
"I didn't think I'd be reappointed in 2007 and that was probably 50 test matches ago, but I think it's a sign this group of people have done a good job. It's not all about me.''
Henry said he admired Canada's play at the tournament so far.
"I've been impressed with them,'' he said. "Canada are always a big physical side that don't get fazed by anybody and they'll stand up and be counted.
"They've developed their attack play a lot more over the last couple of years and they played well against the French. That was a very contestable game and they'd be very pleased with their World Cup I'd think - they are making very good progress.''
Canada: Matt Evans, Conor Trainor, DTH van der Merwe, Ryan Smith, Phil Mackenzie, Ander Monro, Ed Fairhurst; Aaron Carpenter, Chauncey O'Toole, Adam Kleeberger, Jamie Cudmore, Jebb Sinclair, Jason Marshall, Pat Riordan (captain), Hubert Buydens. Reserves: Ryan Hamilton, Scott Franklin, Tyler Hotson, Nanyak Dala, Sean White, Nathan Hirayama.
New Zealand: Mils Muliaina, Israel Dagg, Conrad Smith, Sonny Bill Williams, Zac Guildford, Colin Slade, Jimmy Cowan; Keiran Read, Victor Vito, Jerome Kaino, Ali Williams, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore (captain), Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Brad Thorn, Anthony Boric, Andy Ellis, Piri Weepu, Isaia Toeava.