WELLINGTON (AFP) – The All Blacks have gambled on injured Richie McCaw being fit for their showdown Test against the Springboks early next month, and named the talismanic skipper in the 28-man touring squad.
The team named Friday to travel to Argentina and South Africa for their remaining two Rugby Championship Tests also includes a recall for 71-Test veteran scrumhalf Piri Weepu.
McCaw's inclusion means the All Blacks have only one specialist openside flanker, Sam Cane, for their opening Test against Argentina on September 28.
The 119-Test McCaw suffered ligament damage to his left knee in the unbeaten All Blacks home Test against Argentina, and was expected to have been sidelined for five weeks, which ruled him out of the remainder of the Championship.
Coach Steve Hansen is hoping he will be back on the track a week earlier for the Test against South Africa on October 5, which is likely to decide the series outcome.
"With Richie, we believe that the best chance of having him available to play against South Africa is by having him travel with the squad and getting hands-on treatment from the All Blacks medical staff," Hansen said.
Under strict championship rules limiting touring teams to 28 players, McCaw's inclusion has been at the expense of Matt Todd, who will join the squad in South Africa should the captain not recover in time.
Weepu, who was dropped from the All Blacks earlier in the year, has been recalled following an injury to third-string scrumhalf TJ Perenara, who will be out for up to six weeks to a stress fracture to his left leg.
"We have selected Piri as a replacement for two reasons," Hansen said.
"One, given the environments we are going into, it would be unfair to bring in a novice (scrumhalf); and secondly, we have also seen advances in his game in the areas we asked him to improve in."
As expected, Tom Taylor has been added to the squad following the injury to Dan Carter when the All Blacks beat the Springboks 29-14 in Auckland last weekend.
With two rounds remaining, the All Blacks lead the Rugby Championship with 18 points, four clear of South Africa.
Australia are third on four points with Argentina on two.
New Zealand squad:
Forwards: Dane Coles, Andrew Hore, Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Tony Woodcock, Brodie Retallick, Jeremy Thrush, Samuel Whitelock, Sam Cane, Steven Luatua, Richie McCaw, Liam Messam, Kieran Read.
Backs: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Aaron Smith, Piri Weepu, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Cruden, Tom Taylor, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Israel Dagg, Charles Piutau, Julian Savea, Ben Smith.