Has McCaw injury tipped the scales?
Has the loss of All Black captain Richie McCaw tipped the scales slightly towards the Springboks ahead of this weekend’s Castle Lager Rugby Championship showdown at Eden Park in Auckland?
With the Boks confirming on Saturday that they are the only side that can challenge the All Blacks for their Rugby Championship crown, Saturday’s game, which would normally see the All Blacks start as overwhelming favourites, will be vital.
But while they will still be favoured to win – the last time the Boks won in Auckland was when Dr Danie Craven was scrumhalf in 1937 – there is a feeling that the Boks definitely have a chance in the fixture if they choose to play the All Blacks the right way.
McCaw’s presence in the All Black team takes them to another level but in his absence his replacement – likely to be Sam Cane – can be put under pressure and the All Blacks should not get the same advantage they would have with referees had McCaw been on the field.
All Black coach Steve Hansen confirmed to the Waikato Times that McCaw had sustained a medial ligament injury and would be out “for four to five weeks”.
"He will stay with us for the week and by the end of next week we'll have a pretty good idea so hopefully maybe he might be back for the second South Africa game," Hansen said.
"The doc thinks he'll definitely get to the Bledisloe third game."
That means McCaw may make an appearance at Ellis Park in the final Rugby Championship game of the season but on Saturday he will be on the sidelines.
Hansen said he believed Sam Cane would be a worthy replacement for the 119-test veteran.
"He's ready for it, he's played some good rugby for us," Hansen said. "He hasn't played a poor test, I don't think, and he's played some very good ones.
"He's comfortable and that's important. A lot of players in years gone by have been, I wouldn't say frightened, but certainly burdened by the expectation that comes with being an All Black.
"What we've tried to do here, and some may see it as wrong and some may see it as right, but we've tried to introduce them slowly and get them used to the expectations of what it's like to be an All Black and then when they get out there it doesn't inhibit you.
"Sam's had a pretty good apprenticeship so he's ready to rumble."
Hansen also confirmed both Liam Messam and Ma’a Nonu would be available for selection for the Bok game, but that Aaron Cruden was an outside chance. He also praised the Boks for their record-breaking win in Brisbane.
"They've kept their physicality but they've sped up their game, they're using their backs a lot more and this will be the first time they've had so many bonus points in this competition.
"That's a reflection on how they're using the ball so they're going to be really really tough," Hansen said.