Richie McCaw warns All Blacks must up their game

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw has declared there can be no excuses for his side in this morning’s Rugby Championship decider against Australia and warns they’re in for a tough game if they don’t improve.

Richie McCaw warns All Blacks must up their game

The world champions lacked trademark fluency in international season-opening wins against Samoa, Argentina and South Africa, as coach Steve Hansen experimented with players and tinkered with combinations.

McCaw, who will equal Irishman Brian O’Driscoll’s record of 141 Test caps at ANZ Stadium, said there was an edgy mood around the squad as 41 players battled for 31 World Cup spots.

“Being able to win and still give the guys a crack and perhaps not have the fluency we’d like, hopefully we’re getting a real positive out of it,” McCaw said.

“But I think everyone has had a dig now and there’s no real excuses for that any more.”

Like Hansen, McCaw wasn’t surprised Wallabies coach Michael Cheika was starting both of his openside flankers Michael Hooper and David Pocock.

“I suppose having both out on the field makes sense from their point of view with the way they are playing, so I kind of expected doesn’t really change a lot how we operate,” McCaw said.

Renowned for his peerless play at the breakdown, McCaw emphasised it would need a collective effort to nullify the twin threat from Pocock and Hooper, who will play at No.8 and openside flanker, respectively.

“I don’t think it’s just me. I think you realise the breakdown is an area that’s hotly contested, whether there’s one or two (of them).

“Everyone has an impact there these days, but those two are certainly pretty accurate at that.

“They’ve been talking about bashing each other at training, which probably indicated that’s what they are doing.

“But at the end of the day the same players have played other years, so it comes down to winning those physical battles.”

He said the return of veteran backs Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell from overseas to the Wallaby ranks would bring a sense of calmness to their team.

“They are playing pretty good rugby to be back in the team and it looks like they are excited about getting a chance again, so they’ve probably added something,” McCaw said.”

Debate has been heated since Cheika announced that tearaway Hooper and Pocock will start together for the first time, some calling it bold and others risky.

It’s certainly a potential game-changer and Australia needs that, not having beaten New Zealand since 2011 and not having won the Bledisloe Cup since 2002.

It’s been viewed as a move away from the heavyweight, power-based game Cheika’s NSW Waratahs won the Super Rugby title with in 2014, in favour of a more dynamic, up tempo, speed-based style.

But it leaves the door open in a couple of key areas, something All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has hinted at.

The All Blacks are expected to attack the Wallabies’ new-look and lighter scrum, which has Pocock in the unfamiliar No.8 role, and also at the lineout.

Other changes to the pack include Dean Mumm taking over from giant lock Will Skelton in a new second-row with James Horwill and prop Scott Sio making his starting debut.

That’s a lot of adapting in a short time to establish lineout and scrum combinations.

Australian captain and hooker Stephen Moore insists his team would be ready for a searching set-piece examination.

“We’ve worked really hard on making sure that area of the game is sound,” Moore said.

“The scrum is going to be an important part of the game, along with the lineout and we’ve prepared in that fashion.”

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