McCaw gets go-ahead as Wales look to Hook


New Zealand captain Richie McCaw was given the all-clear to play in this weekend’s World Cup semi-final with Australia as Wales put their faith in James Hook to guide them through against France.
Meanwhile the World Cup lived up to its reputation as a ‘coach killer’. With Peter de Villiers having already indicated he will stand down as boss of defending champions South Africa when his contract ends in December following the Springboks’ quarter-final loss to Australia, it was the turn Thursday of All Black great John Kirwan to call time on his career in charge of Japan.
And England manager Martin Johnson faced an uncertain future after his paymasters announced an inquiry into their team’s wretched World Cup campaign. But for the four coaches still at the World Cup, the future stretches no further than this weekend. Wales boss Warren Gatland was forced into making a change when he announced his team to play France on Thursday. Fly-half Rhys Priestland was ruled out with a shoulder injury and Gatland chose Hook to take his place, with veteran pivot Stephen Jones on the bench. “Time was against Rhys,” said Gatland ahead of Saturday’s all European encounter at Eden Park. “But when we have players of the calibre and experience of James Hook and Stephen Jones, there’s no sense that Rhys’s absence leaves us any weaker.” Hook added: “I have been in the camp for the last six or seven weeks and I am familiar with the calls.” Injuries have overshadowed New Zealand’s bid to add just a second World Cup title to the one they won when staging the inaugural edition, also on home soil, 24 years ago.
First choice fly-halves Dan Carter and Colin Slade have both been ruled out of the tournament already through groin injuries and there have been fears McCaw’s longstanding foot problem could sideline him from Sunday’s clash at Eden Park, where Australia haven’t won since 1986. But All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen said Thursday: “Richie McCaw’s foot is fine…So, hopefully that puts that away.” New Zealand referee Bryce Lawrence was widely criticised for allowing a free for all at the breakdown during the Wallabies 11-9 win over the Springboks in Wellington last weekend. And with the All Blacks and the Wallabies boasting two of the world’s best in McCaw and rival Australia openside flanker David Pocock when it comes to slowing down opposition call, both camps did their best Thursday to make their feelings clear to South African referee Craig Joubert, the man in the middle on Sunday.