South Africa v New Zealand, Tri-Nations, Soweto, August 21
Fitzpatrick lauds "outstanding" McCaw
August 20, 2010
All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw will go toe-to-toe with the Springboks once again this weekend © Getty Images
Former All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick has given current New Zealand skipper Richie McCaw a fulsome tribute ahead of his record-equalling 51st game in charge of the team.
The 29-year-old McCaw notched a record 75th win for the All Blacks (from 85 Tests) against the Springboks in Wellington, beating Fitzpatrick's former mark of 74 victories in 92 Tests and will equal another of the former hooker's landmarks by captaining New Zealand for the 51st time in Saturday's Tri-Nations encounter against South Africa at the FNB Stadium near Soweto.
"Richie has been an outstanding captain and there is no better person to captain the All Blacks. I think he's very comfortable with his position and he's playing the best rugby of his career. He has a great feeling for his team and Richie is respected by the whole team and the whole of New Zealand," Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick is in South Africa to publicise next year's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand and he said the All Blacks were currently displaying the sort of sublime form that makes them favourites for that showpiece event.
"The game is changing week to week nowadays and you need good coaches. The New Zealand staff have really stepped up a level, the players are so well conditioned and they are playing smart rugby. I don't believe the Springboks or anyone can live with the All Blacks when they are playing so well," Fitzpatrick said.
The 47-year-old admitted that the All Blacks had surprised him by beating South Africa convincingly in both Auckland and Wellington last month. "After the Super 14, I couldn't see New Zealand and Australia living with the Springboks because the Stormers and Bulls were so good.
"The Stormers had the best defence in the competition and not a single New Zealand franchise beat them. But put a green jersey on them and they became different players," Fitzpatrick said.
The Aucklander said an emphasis on the collisions had allowed the All Blacks to impose an iron-like grip on their games thus far.
"Robbie Deans said after we beat Australia that we were the best team at slowing down the ball. To which I say, 'your team is not good enough to stop us from slowing down your ball'. The All Blacks have been the best team in the collisions, they're masters at the ruck because they're coached to clean out opposition players quicker than anyone else. They are also better in the contact area than anyone else and their skills level is another step up," Fitzpatrick said.
The only man to lead the All Blacks to a series win in South Africa also scoffed at suggestions New Zealand playing so well a year before the World Cup was the normal order of affairs. "People ask if we're peaking too early, but I believe we're in a good position at the moment," Fitzpatrick said.