WELLINGTON - Nearly nine months after trudging off Twickenham in defeat, rested All Blacks great Richie McCaw returns to Test rugby against Australia in Sydney tomorrow.
McCaw will lead a hardened New Zealand side in the opening Bledisloe Cup clash which will expose whether his 32-year-old frame is short of a gallop.
A proven performer in the past with little rugby under his belt, McCaw faces his biggest cobweb-brushing exercise both physically and mentally, having reclaimed the captaincy from Kieran Read.
He stored the boots away after his 116th Test, the heavy loss to England in London on December 1, to pursue other interests at home and overseas.
His only rugby since has been an 80-minute club game, two late bench appearances for the Crusaders and 40 minutes against Canterbury in an All Blacks squad hitout last Friday.
Coach Steve Hansen has never doubted McCaw's readiness and says the veteran has added value already this week with a critique of the recent three-Test series whitewash of France.
"He's been sitting back watching through the June series and he's got his thoughts on that and how we can improve our game.
"He's pretty keen. The pleasing thing is the flow-on from Reado, because he's continuing to lead really well as well."
McCaw, Read, 27, and flanker Liam Messam, 29, will form the oldest New Zealand loose forward trio since 30-year-olds Zinzan Brooke, Michael Jones and Mike Brewer played Australia in 1995.
All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Ryan Crotty.