McCaw to play 100th test for NZ vs Japan in RWC
Updated: September 13, 2011, 22:25
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HAMILTON, New Zealand(AP) Richie McCaw will become the first All Black to play 100 tests in the World Cup match against Japan on Friday but Dan Carter won't be beside him after dropping out with a back strain on Wednesday.
Carter was hurt in the tournament-opening 41-10 win over Tonga last Friday, but was retained by coach Graham Henry in a strong side containing no surprises. Within hours, Carter pulled up sore in training, and the New Zealand management decided to let him recover to be ready for the crunch Pool A clash next week against France.
Colin Slade, who last started in the 18-5 Tri-Nations loss to South Africa in Port Elizabeth last month, replaced Carter at flyhalf, Jimmy Cowan was brought into the reserves, and fellow scrumhalf Piri Weepu designated as cover for flyhalf.
"The key thing is that Daniel had been recovering well from a stiff lower back,'' All Blacks doctor Deb Robinson said. "We will have him back fully training next week in preparation for the France test.''
In choosing the team to play Japan, Henry gave players who didn't feature against Tonga a chance to press claims for the France match, when New Zealand's best 15 is expected to play.
Other features of the side included the recall of veterans Mils Muliaina, who will appear in his 99th test, center Conrad Smith, who reaches 50 caps, and hooker Keven Mealamu, who has 86. They help make it the most experienced All Blacks side ever, with 776 combined appearances.
Smith and Ma'a Nonu will play their 31st test together in midfield, dropping Sonny Bill Williams, who impressed against Tonga, in the reserves.
Adam Thomson, who didn't play in the opener after hurting his elbow in the Tri-Nations loss to Australia in Brisbane, has recovered to replace Victor Vito at No. 8, and Sam Whitelock takes over from Ali Williams to partner Brad Thorn in the second row.
Andy Ellis, the third-choice scrumhalf, also starts to get game-time, and Cory Jane has slotted on the right wing, pushing Richard Kahui to the left and bumping out Isaia Toeava.
In congratulating McCaw on his achievement, Henry said the skipper was inspirational for his total commitment to enhancing the country's reputation through the All Blacks' success.
"He is incredibly brave, skillful, and a hugely intelligent player who has the total respect of his team through the many deeds and successes he has achieved on the rugby field, and his ability to lead from the front,'' Henry said.
Almost 10 years after his debut, McCaw said of his century: "It's nice to have got there.''
"It's pretty special, but I can't ignore the fact I've got to perform well for the team, that's the most important part,'' he added. "I'll reflect afterwards that playing 100 is cool to do.''
Henry said McCaw will not play every game, meaning he'll likely be rested against Canada, New Zealand's last pool match before the quarterfinals. With the loose forward stocks depleted by the ankle injury to regular No. 8 Kieran Read, Henry said they will juggle the lineup to give all the loosies a rest.
"It's not good for him (McCaw) to play seven weeks in a row,'' Henry said.
Muliaina, who had been level on caps with McCaw until last week, said McCaw's milestone makes the Japan match more special for the team.
"There's no doubt what he brings, the leadership of the team and the respect he has in the team,'' Muliaina said. "The boys will be up for it.''
Muliaina's demotion was a major surprise in the team which played Tonga, and he said it took him a couple of days to get over the disappointment while helping the team prepare for the match against the Pacific islanders.
"It's not until you're not selected that you realize how hard it is not to run out with the boys,'' he said.
Israel Dagg played fullback against Tonga and was one of the All Blacks' stars, and Henry said it was his preference for Dagg at fullback than on the wing, meaning Muliaina probably has a last shot at impressing Henry & Co before the top 15 lines up against France. Muliaina said he was ready to fight for the position and keen to put on a good show on his home ground of Waikato Stadium.
Henry said they had a lot of respect for Japan, more so after its narrow opening loss to France.
"They are physical at the breakdown, play the game at speed and will be a real threat if we let them play like that,'' Henry said. "We need to play at our pace, which is reasonably quick.''
New Zealand beat Japan by a World Cup-record 145-17 in 1995.
New Zealand: Mils Muliaina, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Richard Kahui, Colin Slade, Andy Ellis; Adam Thomson, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Andrew Hore, John Afoa, Ali Williams, Victor Vito, Jimmy Cowan, Piri Weepu, Sonny Bill Williams.