RWC: Hansen gives Richie McCaw the thumbs-up
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AUCKLAND, 13 Oct. – All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen has hosed down any speculation on Richie McCaw’s ability to play in New Zealand’s semi-final against Australia at Eden Park on Sunday.
The rumour mill was sent into overdrive on Wednesday after Canterbury flanker Matt Todd was spotted training with the All Blacks as McCaw watched on at Trusts Stadium.
The New Zealand skipper has been battling ongoing soreness in his right foot since having a pin inserted in February after being diagnosed with a stress fracture. However, Hansen says the All Blacks fully expect McCaw to play.
"Richie McCaw's foot is fine,” he said at a press conference on Thursday. "Matt Todd is part of our wider training group and trained with us in Christchurch as did other players down there. We've had wider training group players come in for training at all the venues.
"Matt Todd is in Auckland and it just made common sense to have him here. Now that doesn't mean to say that Richie's foot is any worse than it was, it doesn't mean that Richie is not playing on Sunday, it just means that Matt Todd was in Auckland and that we wanted to use him for training as opposition."
Despite mutterings in other team camps about New Zealand’s extra players at training giving the home team an unfair advantage, Hansen believes the All Blacks are well within their rights to continue using the 23-year-old Todd as part of the squad for practice purposes.
"He will train, he's still here, so he'll come to training," Hansen said. "I'm not worried about how the other teams look at it.
“For us all tournament we've used opposition at training and he (Matt Todd) is part of that and if you've got wider training group people available it's just common sense to use those people."
While Todd might be playing against the All Blacks at training, Hansen was quick to dispel any suggestions they were using the flanker to prepare for the way Australia’s David Pocock plays.
"No. He's being Matt Todd,” the assistant coach said. "Don't read too much into it, he's just at training. The poor bugger is just at training and that's it.”
“We've got plenty of people we can turn into David Pocock, just put a green bib on them and say 'you're David Pocock'."
McCaw was a late withdrawal for New Zealand’s final pool match against Canada and played 73 minutes in the quarter-final against Argentina following a week of limited training.
But despite McCaw’s foot restricting the time he spends on the training field, Hansen doesn’t believe the time on the sidelines has had an adverse affect on the All Blacks captain’s match performance.
"I think he played pretty well last week,” he said. “It was a tough game last week for loose forwards I thought because the Pumas were outstanding defensively and got a lot of numbers in the breakdown. It was a tough game and I thought he played well."
With McCaw’s foot and Adam Thomson still to pass a fitness test on his ankle to determine his availability for selection, number 8 Victor Vito is the only member of New Zealand’s official World Cup squad who can play in the loose forward position. However, Hansen says the All Blacks have it covered should McCaw and Thomson be unavailable.
"We're very happy where we are with our loose forwards,” he said. “Our loose forwards have got niggles but I'd suggest the other three sides, they'd all have niggles. That's what tournament rugby is about, the fittest stay the strongest and longest.
"There wouldn't be too many rugby players playing international rugby that at the end of an international campaign who don't have a niggle. That's all we've got. Richie's obviously reasonably sore in the foot but he's still able to play. Adam's got an ankle, he's training, he just hasn't got over the hump yet.
"We don't need to replace them, we've got enough cover.”