x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

McCaw on the verge of a surprise comeback

The New Zealand rugby captain Richie McCaw could make a surprise return against Australia in Sydney on Saturday.

Richie McCaw, in action against Ireland, could return against Australia on Saturday in the Tri Nations after recovering from an ankle injury.
Richie McCaw, in action against Ireland, could return against Australia on Saturday in the Tri Nations after recovering from an ankle injury.

WELLINGTON // The New Zealand rugby captain Richie McCaw could make a surprise return from an ankle injury in the All Blacks' Tri Nations match against Australia in Sydney on Saturday. McCaw, who injured his ankle against England last month, was expected to be out for a minimum of six weeks. But he has been bracketed with Daniel Braid in one of five changes to the starting line-up that suffered a shock 30-28 defeat to South Africa earlier this month.

The openside flanker has a 50/50 chance of playing, with a final decision dependant on how his ankle progresses this week, the All Blacks coach Graham Henry said. "Richie's just desperate to play for the All Blacks," Henry said, adding that McCaw would make the final decision on his ability to play. McCaw returned to training on Monday, reporting that he had trained at full pace with no signs of the ankle injury affecting him.

The inclusion of McCaw or Braid as a specialist openside flanker has forced a reshuffle of Henry's loose forward combination, with Rodney So'oialo shifting to blindside flanker in place of Adam Thomson. Jerome Kaino remains in the No 8 role. Brad Thorn returns from suspension to start at lock, while veteran prop Greg Somerville returns to the front row, relegating John Afoa to the bench. In the backs Anthony Tuitavake replaces Rudi Wulf on the wing while Richard Kahui starts at centre ahead of Conrad Smith.

Kahui, who played his only test against England last month, is also a surprise selection, and has the tough task of marking hard-running Australian captain Stirling Mortlock. "He plays with a lot of edge and we just feel he's ready to go this week," Henry said. The changes were based on picking the best team to face Australia, rather than the poor form showen in the loss to South Africa, he added.

Australia beat South Africa 16-9 in Perth last Saturday. * Reuters