JOHANNESBURG - The way New Zealand deals with an expected early onslaught from a desperate South Africa will go a long way to deciding the Rugby Championship finale at Ellis Park, returning All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said on Friday.
Looking up at the steep red and dark grey stands at the Johannesburg venue on the eve of his 120th test but first at the 65,000-seater, McCaw said "Yeah, it's going to be a big challenge, isn't it? It's a test match to test yourselves."
New Zealand, the top-ranked world and defending champion, is on course for a sixth win from six and another perfect championship. In the way is a Springboks team that needs a rare dominant win over the All Blacks to steal that title — and so needs to start strongly — but is boosted by its strong record against its archrival at Ellis Park.
"I think that first 15 minutes is going to be pretty key to the game, to be honest," McCaw said in bright sunshine on the Ellis field. "We've talked about that. Even if the Rugby Championship wasn't on the line it would still be the same battle because of the pride these two teams have."
The title sure is up for grabs, though South Africa has to win, score at least four tries and deny New Zealand a losing bonus point.
"I'm not sure how they'll approach it. If it's anything like how we'll approach it, the first thing is to go out and perform and win the game. Whatever comes after that comes," McCaw said. "I'm pretty sure it's going to be pretty noisy, I'd say. To be honest, wherever you play over here in South Africa it's usually like that. It would be nice if we could silence them a bit."
McCaw also assured reporters he was fully fit after a left knee injury ruled him out of the recent wins over South Africa at home and Argentina away. Despite strapping on the knee at Friday's training run it was fully healed, the skipper said, after he made a quicker-than-expected recovery to play in the showdown.
"Actually the knee's pretty good. I wouldn't play if I didn't think it was 100 (per cent)," he said. "It turned out it (the recovery period) could have been anywhere between four and six weeks. It turned out to be four. I've made sure I've done everything right."
McCaw's presence is significant for New Zealand, which will likely need its inspiring and experienced leader at a hulking stadium that has a well-known reputation for being imposing and intimidating for visiting teams.
McCaw hadn't sought out any advice for himself, though, for his first test at Ellis. The openside flanker missed the All Blacks' last visit here, a defeat in 2004. To emphasize his readiness for Saturday, McCaw also said, smiling, that he'd broken his own record for shuttle-runs, one of the team's training routines.
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