New Zealand captain to end his Test exile ahead of Rugby Championship.
Forty minutes was all it took for All Blacks coach Steve Hansen to declare his World Cup-winning captain Richie McCaw ready to return to the rigours of Test rugby.
“I don’t think he’s going to be good enough, I know he’s going to be good enough,” Hansen said after McCaw played half a game in All Blacks practice matches against squads of provincial Wellington and Canterbury teams.
McCaw admitted he was “pretty happy” with his performance on Friday night, eight days from the opening Rugby Championship Test against Australia in Sydney.
It was the first run with the All Blacks for McCaw since he returned last month from a lengthy seven-month holiday which kept him out of the June Tests against France.
He has since played one minor game with a team of amateur players and a total of 25 minutes off the bench in two Super 15 play-off matches for the Canterbury Crusaders.
“Fitness-wise there was a bit of running there and it certainly burned a bit. I’ll be better for that run around, so I’m pretty happy,” McCaw said after his first 40-minute run.
“I was just pleased to be out on the field. It’s been a while and it’s just nice to have a run around.”
It was enough to convince Hansen that his star openside flanker was ready to lead the All Blacks when they begin their defence of the Rugby Championship crown against the Wallabies.
“We just wanted him to have a good 40 and energy-wise he felt pretty good and could have gone on and played more but we just thought 40 was enough.”
Hansen also defended the idea of sabbatical leave for senior players with flyhalf Dan Carter to step away from rugby in the first half of next year in an effort to prolong his playing career through to the 2015 World Cup.
It means the Crusaders will play back-to-back Super 15 seasons without one of their star players but Hansen argued the long-term benefits outweighed the short-term pain.
“It’s six months out of what’s been a tremendous career and if it lets him have another three, four seasons then we are all going to win,” Hansen said.
“The risk we run if we don’t look after our athletes is they do break down or they get sick of it and frustrated and go overseas and we don’t want that.”