McCaw eyes matching Meads, All Blacks eye Rugby Championship title

Skipper Richie McCaw will equal a 43-year record Saturday when New Zealand seek a bonus-point win over Argentina in La Plata to retain the Rugby Championship title.

AFP| Last Updated: Sep 26, 2014, 14:50 PM IST
McCaw eyes matching Meads, All Blacks eye Rugby Championship title

La Plata: Skipper Richie McCaw will equal a 43-year record Saturday when New Zealand seek a bonus-point win over Argentina in La Plata to retain the Rugby Championship title.

Legendary lock Colin Meads made 133 appearances for the All Blacks -- 55 Tests and 78 other matches -- before his 1971 retirement.

And flanker McCaw has worn the famous black 132 times with all but one match against the Barbarians being Tests.

Meads is revered as one of the greatest All Blacks and in 1999 was voted New Zealand Rugby Player of the Century.

In a 15-year international career, the 1.92-metre sheep farmer became an iconic figure, adored by his rugby-loving countrymen and respected by all opponents.

McCaw has proved a worthy successor, silencing critics who rubbished the elevation of the then raw 20-year-old to the 2001 national squad.

"You might as well give All Blacks jerseys to everyone," was the reaction of former New Zealand flanker Josh Kronfeld to McCaw earning his first cap.

McCaw has developed into a modern rugby colossus, who led hosts New Zealand to the 2011 World Cup title.

New Zealand have dominated the Rugby Championship since its 2012 birth when Argentina joined Australia and South Africa in an annual, double-round southern hemisphere tournament.

And while the All Blacks have dominated with 15 wins and a draw, Argentina have found life among the elite tough with one draw and 15 losses.

New Zealand have 16 points from four games and another five will take them beyond the reach of the Wallabies and Springboks, who clash in Cape Town earlier Saturday.

Estadio Ciudad de La Plata, a 53,000 capacity venue 76 kilometres (47 miles) from capital city Buenos Aires, has been a happy hunting ground for the All Blacks.

They survived a fierce early Argentine assault to triumph by a handsome 54-15 margin in 2012 and a couple of late tries led to a 33-15 victory last year.

Given 11 places separate top-ranked New Zealand from Argentina and an All Blacks record of five consecutive home and away wins over the Pumas, an away win seems virtually inevitable.

But All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was quick to praise Argentina, who have lost three of four Championship games this season by seven or fewer points.

A 28-9 defeat in soggy New Zealand was the only Test in which the Agustin Creevy-skippered South Americans failed to collect a losing bonus point.

"To beat the Pumas we must deliver a quality performance, full of excitement, energy, physicality and accuracy," stressed the coach who succeeded Graham Henry after the 2011 World Cup.

"The Pumas have been playing very well and are a much improved side since last season. Expectations of a home win among supporters will be high."

Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade hopes a team lacking injured back-row star Juan Manuel Leguizamon can recover from a "shameful" 32-25 loss in Australia.

"It was our worst performance of the season as we spent most of the time defending. The only consolation was that we still came close to a draw."

Injuries, ill discipline and an imminent birth forced Hansen to change five of the team that started against South Africa two weeks ago in a 14-10 Wellington victory.

In come centre Malakai Fekitoa, fly-half Beauden Barrett, hooker Keven Mealamu, lock Sam Whitelock and flanker Jerome Kaino.

Out go injured Ma`a Nonu, suspended Aaron Cruden, father-to-be Dane Coles, and dropped Jeremy Thrush and Steven Luatua.

Drunk Cruden missed the flight to Argentina and will also be barred from the final-rond clash with South Africa in Johannesburg next weekend.