All Blacks eager to win for McCaw
HAMILTON, 15 Sept. - New Zealand will be out to give legendary captain Richie McCaw a 100th Test to remember when they take on Japan at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Friday. McCaw will become the first All Black to reach the milestone and his teammates plan to mark their captain's achievement in fine style. "We want to go out there and make it a truly memorable occasion for him," said hooker Keven Mealamu.
Kiwi coach Graham Henry says McCaw deserves a special evening after 10 years of outstanding service for his country. "He provides inspiration to New Zealanders because of his total commitment to enhancing the reputation of New Zealand through the success of the All Blacks team," he said.
Japan coach John Kirwan, who scored 35 tries in 63 Tests for the All Blacks, says McCaw will go down as one of the legends of New Zealand rugby.
"The number of games he's playing will put him up there as the best. I'm just really pleased he beat Fitzy (Sean Fitzpatrick, who played 92 Tests for New Zealand). That's really good for us old boys," he said.
The milestone has been a long time coming for McCaw, but the 30-year-old admits he is excited about Friday's match. "It was going to happen at some stage and it's a bit of a relief to get there. But to get to 100 is awesome and to play it in New Zealand is special," McCaw said.
The last time Japan faced New Zealand in a Test match, the All Blacks recorded a crushing 145-17 victory in Bloemfontein, South Africa, at the 1995 World Cup.
However, the Brave Blossoms are determined to show the rugby world how much they have improved since that rueful day.
"As soon as we found out that we were playing New Zealand in New Zealand, that defeat crossed everyone's minds," said Japan second row Toshizumi Kitagawa.
Ryan Nicholas, who played centre in the Japan team that impressed in their opening match against France on Saturday, added: "We don't talk about the past.
"It's just nice that people can see the improvements that we have made and take a team like France close for most of the game."
Japan coach Kirwan believes his team will go into Friday's game with nothing to lose. "You can look at it two ways: a hard task or an exciting opportunity. And we're taking the exciting opportunity approach," Kirwan said. "One thing we've spoken about all week is accuracy because the All Blacks are pretty complete right across the field. If you're not accurate all night, you'll pay for that."
New Zealand coach Henry says his team have great respect for the Brave Blossoms and will not underestimate them. “There is no doubt that they are a very good team and well coached by John Kirwan and Mick Byrne," he said. "They are physical at the breakdown, play the game at speed and will be a real threat if we let them play like that. We will have to be on top of our game.”
The All Blacks have made eight changes to the team that defeated Tonga 41-10, headlined by fly half Dan Carter's withdrawal because of a back injury.
Japan have made 11 changes to the line-up that lost 47-21 to France in their opening match of the tournament.
Fly half James Arlidge, who scored all of his team's 21 points against the French, will be rested on Friday, as coach Kirwan keeps his big guns in cotton wool until the Brave Blossoms' more winnable games against Tonga and Canada.