McCaw relishing back challenge

New Zealand flanker Richie McCaw has shrugged off concerns over his niggling back injury and is relishing the chance to go into battle against British & Irish Lions veteran Neil Back in Saturday's first Test. [more]

Lions Australia Tour 2013

New Zealand flanker Richie McCaw has shrugged off concerns over his niggling back injury and is relishing the chance to go into battle against British & Irish Lions veteran Neil Back in Saturday’s first Test.

The All Blacks have called up Marty Holah as provisional cover in case McCaw’s "minor back strain" flares up as preparations for the Test intensify over the next three days.

But the 24-year-old has vowed nothing will stop him from taking the field at Jade Stadium on Saturday and his battle with Back, the Lions’ open-side flanker, is set to be one of the first Test’s key encounters.

"It’s not the first time this problem has flared up,’ McCaw said. "It got a bit stiff during the Super 12 in South Africa but it’s not a major concern, it won’t keep me out of the game.
"Neil Back is a smart player when it comes to the breakdown. I’ve only played against him once but he certainly made his presence felt that day so I expect nothing else at the weekend.
"He certainly knows how to get in there and put his hands on the ball where you don’t want them.’

The Lions have opted for Back’s experience – he will become the oldest Test Lion at 36 – ahead of Martyn Williams in an attempt to counter and neutralise a player many believe to be the best in the world.

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But McCaw holds Back equally high esteem.

"He’s got 12 years on me and if I’m still playing in 12 years I’ll be shocked,’ said McCaw.

"He is playing good rugby over in the Premiership in England. I’ve watched a bit of it on television and he’s still matching everyone so he must be enjoying it.’

McCaw is expecting a physical onslaught from the huge Lions pack and believes the All Blacks will have to counter the touring side’s strengths if they are to pull off a win.

"The northern hemisphere sides place more emphasis on the set-piece, more than we do in Super 12 although we have tried to rectify that over the past 12 months or so by putting a lot of work into it,’ he said.

"Essentially they play field position and use their lineouts and scrums as a weapon. They do that really well and that is an area where we obviously have to challenge if we are going to achieve our goal of winning the game.’

Most New Zealand rugby fans are still in mourning after the All Blacks failed to win the World Cup in 2003 but McCaw refutes the claim that by beating Sir Clive Woodward’s Lions side, redemption would have been achieved.

"This is a huge series for New Zealand rugby and the whole country and we are going out there to do our best and hopefully get what we are after,’ he said.

"If you start worrying about past campaigns which didn’t go so well then you are asking for trouble. We are just focusing on what is in front of us and that’s the next three games and that’s all we are worrying about.’

It would only be a small bonus for the Lions if McCaw was to be ruled out given Holah, who has been called up from the Junior All Blacks tour of Australia, gave the Lions a torrid time playing for the New Zealand Maori 11 days ago.

All Blacks coach Graham Henry was at pains to stress that he is joining the camp purely as an insurance policy for McCaw.

"Marty’s air miles must be looking pretty healthy, which is a positive for him,’ quipped the All Blacks boss. "We simply want to cover all bases. Richie has come through the hardest part of the training week and is good to go.

"We don’t want to leave any stone unturned. I want to emphasis that this is just a precaution at the moment. Marty is definitely not in the starting XV yet.

"Marty’s presence is insurance just in case Richie’s back should worsen unexpectedly. All the signs are that his back will be fine, but backs can be a little unpredictable so we’ve taken this extra step.

"We know Marty is in good form and has stayed sharp in recent weeks.’

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