NEW YORK, NY – The Rugby World Cup kicks off in September and there appears to be some concern coming out of New Zealand about the health of some key All Blacks. So, should they really be worried?
Undoubtedly, the world’s premier player and possibly the greatest ever, Sir Richie McCaw (OK a tad premature but he will be a sir one day) has suffered another major concussion and is now out of the rest of the Super Rugby competition. Richie has a history of concussions but has always taken a sensible approach to rehabilitation, so I don’t see this being a major factor in his ability to compete on the world’s biggest rugby stage later in the year.
What is of real equal concern was how ineffective Richie was in the few matches of Super Rugby he did play. Based on form he would not have been an automatic starting selection in his preferred number 7 position. However, let’s put this in perspective: Over the past few years Richie has always been late into Super Rugby, resting his aging body for the big matches in The Rugby Championship and end of year Northern Hemisphere Tours. And he’s never failed the All Blacks as a player or leader when it counts most.
Let’s also remember that Richie played the last World Cup in its entirety with a screw in his foot that pushed on his nerve and at times left him lame between matches. But come game day, you would never have known. He still led the All Blacks to victory and his mere presence was enough to psych opponents out. This is one tough and very driven man, so underestimate him at your peril.
Conclusion? Richie is not the Richie of 2011 but he will front when the All Blacks need him most. Even if he’s operating at 70%, Richie is a warrior and the leader the All Blacks need to retain the RWC. Never fear, Richie will be there!
Of more concern is the on-going injuries sustained by Dan Carter. DC, as he’s affectionately known, has been below par for at least the last two years. On his day and injury free he can still be the best No. 10 in the world, but those days are now few and far between. Much like Jonny Wilkinson and England, the AB’s will need to learn how to win without DC and now without Aaron Cruden who is only a slime chance of making it to the RWC after a season ending injury.
Beauden Barrett is the heir apparent after securing the No. 10 position on the AB’s end of year tour in 2014. There’s a lot to like about Barrett but he hasn’t had enough time playing on the front line which will be critical in the white hot atmosphere of a RWC. There are also doubts about his goal kicking and we no how critical this can be at the business end of the tournament – just ask England (Wilkinson) and South Africa (Stransky) who both lead their respective teas to victory with their accurate boots and coolness under pressure.
Unfortunately, below Barrett the pickings are slim. While Colin Slade is a handy player he doesn’t exactly instill confidence as the man to get the job done. Moreover he is also prone to injury at the worst of times. Lima Sopoaga has been touted as a possible back up but his form can be erratic too – brilliant one minute, failing to do the basics the next.
So if there is a concern for the AB’s, its at No. 10. Let’s hope DC can prove us all wrong and turn back the clock to enjoy one last Rugby World Cup swan-song. If not I hope Beauden Barrett is practising his goal-kicking, as this could be the difference between winning and losing the 2015 RWC for the All Blacks.
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