New Zealand captain Richie McCaw will end an exhausting and emotional year by making his debut for the Barbarians in Wednesday night’s Olympic centenary clash with Australia at Wembley.
Alex Lowe writes for PA Sport that McCaw features in a Barbarians side drawn from the cream of the southern hemisphere and captained by South Africa’s John Smit, who is joined by six of his 2007 World Cup-winning colleagues.
It is a unique experience and McCaw is relishing the chance to end a high-pressure season playing alongside many of the big names he spent the last nine months bashing from Christchurch to kingdom come.
McCaw and Smit, rival captains in the Tri-Nations and Super 14, are rooming together. So too are Welsh wing wizard Shane Williams, who starts on the bench, and South Africa’s Bryan Habana.
“You are alongside people you wouldn’t normally have a chance to play with,” said McCaw.
“Normally we don’t see each other after games, we have to just move on, so being able to sit and have a beer and a yarn without worrying about the pressures of next week is unique.
“Rooming with guys you normally beat the hell out of – or vice versa – is pretty good. And John is a good roomie. His snoring was alright last night!”
McCaw admitted to still being bruised and a touch stiff from the All Blacks’ 32-6 victory over England.
“They were physical,” he said.
New Zealand spent the year rebuilding their aura after the crushing disappointment of defeat to France in the World Cup quarter-finals last autumn.
They did so, winning 13 from 15 Tests to claim the Tri-Nations title and complete a third Grand Slam tour.
McCaw backed Martin Johnson to revive England’s fortunes – but he believes they must become smarter and fitter if they are to compete with the world’s best.
England had four players sin-binned against the All Blacks and it could have been more as they failed to adapt to the demands of referee Alain Rolland.
“As soon as one has been given, you’ve got to react to that,” said McCaw.
“That’s why I was happy with our boys. They backed off and didn’t give the referee an excuse to penalise them. I guess that’s just making sure you’re smart.
“Talking to Chris Jack he has found that the style of rugby here means you don’t need to be as fit.
“The big thing is to believe in what you’re doing. We had a belief in what was going to work. That’s the way Martin Johnson operates, I’m sure.
“The big thing you’ve got to remember is that there isn’t a lot between the top teams. There might be on the day.”
McCaw believes the southern hemisphere have benefited from the experimental sanctions law being used in the SANZAR competitions, which sees most penalties replaced by a free-kick.
He feels it not only helped their fitness but also their ability to break down the more structured European sides.
“I found the free-kicks encouraged guys to look up, identify where the space was and to play what they see. That has stayed in our game,” said McCaw.
“From what I’ve seen that’s the difference. In the southern hemisphere the guys play what they see and back themselves.
“Up here they want to play with more structure and build pressure, which works to some degree if you do it well.”
That is not how the Barbarians play and the Wembley crowd, expected to be in excess of 50,000, can expect a high-scoring encounter against the Wallabies.
The Barbarians starting XV includes Habana and Joe Rokocoko on the wings, Francois Steyn at fly-half and former world player of the year Schalk Burger at number eight.
Williams, the current world player of the year, starts on the bench alongside former Australia scrum-half George Gregan.
The Wallabies have included 18-year-old James O’Connor at full-back while uncapped Brumbies lock Peter Kimlin features among the reserves.
George Smith captains the Australia team while winger Lote Tuqiri returns from knee surgery.
The match has been organised as part of the British Olympic Association’s celebrations of the first London Olympics.
Australia won the rugby gold medal in 1908 with a 32-3 victory over Great Britain, who were represented by CornwallTweet