McCaw: It's no normal game

All Blacks captain eyes final spot as Beale ruled out

Steve McMorran


Australia and New Zealand have wound up careful preparations for a Rugby World Cup semi-final, which may be the biggest clash either team has played and the high point of a rugby Test rivalry which has burned brightly for 108 years.

The Wallabies had a setback when full-back Kurtley Beale was ruled out on the eve of tomorrow's match with a hamstring strain, forcing a last-minute rearrangement of their lineup and dulling but not blunting the counter-attacking threat which is intrinsic to their game.

New Zealand expressed confidence in their methodical build-up to the match, which may be an even greater occasion for the All Blacks than the Wallabies, saying they have sought to harness some of the excitement around the match without being overwhelmed by external pressure or expectation.

"You're dead right it's not (just) another game," All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said.

"The way you train and the things you've got to do during the week, you've got to make sure (they) are pretty similar or the same.

"When you get into tomorrow night, what's different is the excitement and obviously what's at the end (a World Cup final). The big thing is not to let that get on top of you and inhibit you from going out and playing well."

Both McCaw and Australia captain James Horwill said their squads were calm ahead of the match at Auckland's 60,000-seat Eden Park, a stadium where the Wallabies haven't won for 25 years.

"The boys are all relaxed and looking forward to it," Horwill said. "We understand the magnitude of the game, but everyone has been calm about what's coming ahead. That's a good sign. You don't want to be walking around too stressed and uptight about what is coming."

McCaw said the All Blacks had also sought to carefully manage emotions around the match, dipping into the public hype which has washed around their hotel, then retreating to compose themselves and to focus the potentially epic match.

"You didn't want to get overhyped but you want to use the excitement as an opportunity to make sure you go out and perform well," McCaw said. "Getting that balance right was key and the way we've built up this week was good. The guys have been excited but not over the top."

There has been much talk in the past week of the Australia-New Zealand rivalry, of Australia's Eden Park hoodoo, of the familiarity of the teams who have played each other twice already this season and 142 times since 1903. New Zealand have won 96 of those matches and Australia 41.

The All Blacks won the first of this season's Tri-Nations tests at Eden Park and Australia won the second at Brisbane; the last match either team played before the World Cup. In both cases, the winning team physically dominated their rival from the start and both have acknowledged that early dominance will be important tomorrow.

"We're planning on playing our game of rugby and not having to be on the back foot," Horwill said. "It's a World Cup semi-final, we have to make sure we start the way we want to."

Tomorrow's match is rife with individual matchups -- and the battle for the loose ball between McCaw and Australia's David Pocock is perhaps a classic case in point. But, as in most matches, the men in the No 10 jerseys, Australia's Quade Cooper and New Zealand's Aaron Cruden, will play a vital part.

Cooper had a poor match in Australia's quarter-final clash with South Africa, but Horwill expressed confidence in the ability of his Wallabies team-mate to bounce back.

"He's been training very well. He's been controlling the boys very well," Horwill said.

"He's just looking forward to it, as we all are. It's not just about one bloke. It's about the group going out there and getting the job done. I know Quade is keen to the get the job done."

Australia: A Ashley-Cooper, J O'Connor, A Fainga'a, P McCabe, D Ioane, Q Cooper, W Genia; R Samo, D Pocock, R Elsom, J Horwill (capt), D Vickerman, B Alexander, S Moore, S Kepu. Reserves: T Polota Nau, J Slipper, R Simmons, B McCalman, L Burgess, B Barnes, R Horne.

New Zealand: I Dagg, C Jane, C Smith, M Nonu, R Kahui, A Cruden, P Weepu; K Read, R McCaw (capt), J Kaino, B Thorn, S Whitelock, O Franks, K Mealamu, T Woodcock. Reserves: A Hore, B Franks, A Williams, V Vito, A Ellis, S Donald, SB Williams.