Lansdowne Road impresses McCaw
New Zealand captain Richie McCaw said it felt "pretty special to be back" at Lansdowne Road, as he contemplated the prospect of becoming the All Blacks’ most-capped player of all-time on the ground where he made his Test debut.
Both flanker McCaw and full-back Mils Muliaina will win their 93rd caps here on Saturday when they take the field against Ireland, both men breaking the previous New Zealand Test appearance record of former captain Sean Fitzpatrick.
For the 29-year-old McCaw, the venue has a particular resonance as it was at Lansdowne where he made his Test debut in a 40-29 victory in 2001.
But whereas the old Lansdowne was a ramshackle stadium, this weekend McCaw will run out into a gleaming ground that will be staging only its third Test since undergoing a 410 million euros (357 million pounds, 578 million dollars) total redevelopment.
“It’s a wee bit different now,” McCaw said as he spoke to reporters pitchside at Lansdowne on Friday.
“It’s pretty special to be back here, I’ve got some good memories of playing here. It’s a pretty awesome stadium now.”
McCaw ended up being named man-of-the-match on his debut but only after his first touch in Test rugby ended with him knocking-on after a huge hit.
“I don’t think it was that flash,” he said. “It pretty much all went in a blur but I certainly remember running out there and I was pretty nervous beforehand. But once we got into it, I guess you’ve got to carry on, don’t you.
“I was a bit lucky, I suppose with that (man-of-the-match award). It was a pretty cool thing to get.
“I was just pretty keen to make sure I showed I deserved to be in the All Blacks at the time.”
The old Lansdowne was famed for the roar of a crowd, many standing on terraces, who were able to generate a noise that seemed well in excess of its then 49,000 capacity.
Ireland have never beaten New Zealand but were 16-7 in front at half-time on McCaw’s debut.
“It was obviously a pretty packed house, from what I remember and it was pretty loud — especially when we were down by a few points,” McCaw, now arguably the world’s leading openside flanker, recalled.
“I think the Irish crowd they certainly saw their team was in with a shot of winning the game and it got pretty noisy.
“But as the game wore on, we got back in front and it quietened down a bit. It was a cool stadium, an old stadium, but a pretty cool one (in which) to be running out in front of all those people.”
Ireland have never beaten New Zealand in 23 encounters dating back to a first meeting 105 years ago and they were lacklustre in last week’s 20-10 win over Samoa, which followed a 23-21 loss to world champions South Africa at Lansdowne earlier this month.
New Zealand, by contrast, are halfway to a third ’grand slam’ in five years against the ’Home Nations’ after seeing off England 26-16 at Twickenham and thrashing Scotland 49-3 at Murrayfield last week.
When the All Blacks last played Ireland, at New Plymouth in June, they ran out 66-28 winners in a match where Ireland No 8 Jamie Heaslip was sent-off for kneeing McCaw in the back.
However, McCaw insisted: “If we don’t turn up and play properly anything can happen. Rather than the last couple of weeks, I know they (Ireland) will be better for having those two performances.
“Back in June, even though the first-half was the way it was, when they were down to 14 they certainly played some good rugby and put us under pressure.”
Saturday’s match, as well as being a landmark occasion for McCaw and Muliaina, could also see New Zealand’s Graham Henry record his 100th victory as a coach in international rugby.
And if All Black fly-half Dan Carter scores 21 or more points, he will surpass England’s Jonny Wilkinson as Test rugby’s all-time leading scorer.
However, McCaw added: “All these things are secondary. The first thing is for the team to go and perform.”