All Blacks coach Graham Henry raised the bar for captain Richie McCaw, saying
he’d never played better than last month in Cape Town.

It was lofty praise
indeed as McCaw returns to the scene of one of his greatest test performances
for Saturday’s Tri-Nations decider against the Wallabies, cleared to lead the
All Blacks after rib injury issues.

McCaw, lock Brad Thorn (hamstring)
and wing Sitiveni Sivivatu (ankle) were all cleared to start after being rested
for last week’s 100-point romp over Samoa.

It meant the same All Blacks
starting 15 for three consecutive Tri-Nations tests, after the 19-0 win over the
Springboks in Cape Town and the 39-10 dispatch of the Wallabies in

The constant in those two victories — which revived a jittery
All Blacks Tri-Nations campaign — was McCaw, and Henry was all too happy to
reach for the Thesaurus again.

“He’s been colossal, in a word. He came in
with no rugby for a month against the Australians in Auckland and I thought he
was pretty special,” Henry said.

“Then he upped that performance in Cape
Town where he probably played his best game as an All Black.

“He might
debate that, but I thought he was outstanding and his leadership was equal to
his playing ability. His influence on his group is colossal.”

There were
similar adjectives being used by Henry two years ago after the All Blacks’
previous test here, a brutal 13-9 win.

Henry said his skipper “couldn’t
play any better” after a performance which included a vital trysaving tackle and
turnover on Wallabies winger Mark Gerrard.

Tuesday’s Daily Telegraph
newspaper headlined a page “In awe of McCaw,” and highlighted his immense
influence on the All Blacks’ success, including his win rate of 57 from 64, or
89 per cent.

Opposition coach Robbie Deans knows that all too

“He is hugely influential, not only on the game but on people
around him. he is the most obvious point of difference between when the All
Blacks have thrived and when they haven’t.”

McCaw’s return pushed flanker
Adam Thomson back to the bench, where his versatility and lineout ability saw
Sione Lauaki omitted from the squad. Isaia Toeava’s ability to cover most
backline spots saw Rudi Wulf miss out.

The only headache for Henry was
bench prop John Afoa, who had a niggly injury and was bracketed with Neemia

The All Blacks trained in fine, warm weather in Brisbane today
and Henry said they were itching to take the field after nearly a month since
their South African win.

Since then the Wallabies won in Durban then
suffered a record 53-8 hiding in Johannesburg, a defeat Henry admitted wasn’t
ideal for the All Blacks.

“I don’t think it does us any favours at all.
They’ll be hugely disappointed with their performance and it’ll give them more
edge and more attitude,” he said.

“We don’t really need that, it’s a pity
it’s happened.

“It was always going to be a big game, a decider, and
they’ve got the advantage of coming off a big loss.”

Henry noted the All
Blacks’ recent struggles in Australia, namely the 19-34 loss in Sydney in July
and the last-gasp defeat in Melbourne last year.

If there was any
complacency, the All Blacks need only cast their minds back to Sydney, Henry

“This series has shown that sides have come off losses repeatedly,
losses which they haven’t been proud of, and got up the next game.

a reflection on the quality of the rugby, quality of the sides and how attitude
plays a huge part in the result of the game.”

All Blacks: Mils Muliaina,
Richard Kahui, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Dan Carter, Jimmy
Cowan, Rodney So’oialo, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Ali Williams, Brad
Thorn, Greg Somerville, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Keven Mealamu,
John Afoa/Neemia Tialata, Anthony Boric, Adam Thomson, Piri Weepu, Stephen
Donald, Isaia Toeava.