Sat, Nov 29, 2008 - Page 18 News List

Grand Slam still matters for McCaw

AFP , LONDON

In an era where winning the World Cup is everything, the fact the All Blacks go into today’s match against England at Twickenham on the verge of a grand slam may not seem like a big deal.

But don’t tell that to New Zealand captain Richie McCaw.

Fans in the rugby-mad nation have had to endure one World Cup disappointment after another since the All Blacks won the inaugural edition on home soil in 1987.

What has made the losses harder to bear for New Zealand supporters is that their side has frequently been the sport’s dominant force between World Cups.

That’s certainly been the case this year. New Zealand, ranked No. 1 in the world, won the Tri-­Nations and this month have enjoyed a triumphal progress through the British Isles.

Scotland, Ireland and Wales have all been defeated without the All Blacks conceding a try and a win this weekend would give New Zealand their second grand slam in three years and third overall.

McCaw, arguably the world’s best openside flanker, believes such achievements have value and shouldn’t be disregarded simply because they don’t come attached to a World Cup win.

“You have to be able to gain lasting fulfillment without winning the World Cup,” said the captain of the All Black side defeated by France in the quarter-finals of last year’s tournament.

“It would be awful to have finished your career having achieved some of the things we have, even up to now, and not feel like you’ve done good,” he said.

New Zealand, who welcome back fit-again center Conrad Smith from a groin injury in the only change to the team that beat Wales 29-9 in Cardiff, are widely expected to make short work of a callow-looking England side.

While New Zealand were seeing off Wales, England were slumping to a record-breaking 42-6 home defeat to world champions South Africa.

Such is the seeming disparity between the two sides that England fans could be forgiven for thinking their side’s best bet is to follow Wales’ lead in staring down the haka, but take it a step further by refusing to budge so the game can’t start.

England manager Martin Johnson has made three changes to his team, notably at stand-off where Toby Flood replaces the out-of-touch Danny Cipriani. In the pack lineout specialist Nick Kennedy returns in place of Tom Palmer and openside flanker Michael Lipman replaces Tom Rees.

Today will see the teams competing for the Hillary Shield for the first time, named in honor of New Zealand mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man, together with Sherpa Tenzing, to climb Mount Everest in 1953.

If England, who have lost their last six games against the All Blacks, need inspiration about overcoming seemingly impossible odds they could do worse than draw strength from Hillary’s example.

But England attack coach Brian Smith was in bullish mood.

“New Zealand, there’s not a magical mystery about them. They put their trousers on one leg at a time like we do. They are beatable,” he said.

Smith, however, is an Australian.

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