All Black assistant coach Steve Hansen says Richie McCaw's injured foot is "fine" and he doesn't care that opposing teams think New Zealand are bending World Cup rules by involving his potential replacement in squad practice sessions.
Hansen didn't wait for the first question at a news conference on Thursday before moving to quash speculation that the All Blacks skipper, McCaw, may not be able to play in Sunday's World Cup semifinal against Australia ... or that young Crusaders flank Matt Todd has been called to Auckland as backup.
"I can guess what the first question is so I'm going to answer it for you," Hansen said.
"Richie McCaw's foot is fine. Matt Todd is training with us as you all know and have written about."
"Todd's part of a wider training group and trained with us in Christchurch as did other players down there.
"Matt Todd is in Auckland and it just made commonsense to have him here.
"That's not to say that Richie's foot is worse than it was, it doesn't mean that Richie's not playing on Sunday, it means that Matt Todd was in Auckland and we wanted him to use him for training as opposition.
"So, hopefully that puts that away and we talk about the game."
New Zealand has been in a flap over reports the inspirational flank was not training with his teammates amid fears he would join injured star flyhalf Dan Carter on the sidelines for Sunday's crunch game.
The appearance of Todd at All Black training Wednesday sparked rumours all was not well with the indispensable McCaw, but Hansen dispelled fears.
But Hansen said although the 101-cap openside flank, McCaw, was in pain he would play this weekend.
McCaw had surgery for a stress fracture in his right foot in February and missed the first two months of the Super Rugby season.
The problem flared again recently with the loose forward on a restricted training workload.
"Richie didn't train last week on the pitch and he probably won't train on the pitch until [Saturday's] captain's run and he'll do very little," Hansen said.
"I don't think it will [affect his game], he played pretty well last week. It was a tough game last week for loose forwards against Argentina."
Hansen said international players regularly played with injuries and this was no different with McCaw.
"Our loose forwards have got niggles, but I would suggest the other three sides have all had niggles, that's what tournament rugby is all about," he said.
"Richie's obviously reasonably sore in the foot, but he's still able to play.
"I just don't see him [McCaw] being ruled out, but, hypothetically, if he was it would be disappointing but we get on with it."
Critics say by using players such as Todd as training partners, the All Blacks are able to familiarize those players with the team calls and tactics they would have to learn if they joined the team as a replacement.
Under World Cup rules, players can't join a country's 30-man squad unless they officially replace an injured player.
Sightings of Todd at Auckland Airport, the All Blacks hotel and at a training session in which McCaw took only a limited role led to speculation on Wednesday that the veteran All Blacks back row forward may be more serious than the team has indicated.
"I'm not worried how the other teams look at it," he said.
"For us, all tournament we've used opposition at training and he's part of that. If you've got wider training group people available it's just commonsense to use those people."
Asked if the availability of players such as Todd was an advantage to the home team, Hansen said "I guess it is."
McCaw continues to take a limited role in All Blacks training and Hansen told a reporter that the All Blacks have been managing his injury carefully for some time.
"With that accent you're obviously Australian, you weren't here last week," he said.
"He didn't train last week on the pitch and he probably won't train on the pitch until probably the captain's run and he will do very well."
He laughed at suggestions that Todd had been called in to simulate the playing style of the Australian flank David Pocock, who is seen as a key figure in Sunday's match.
"Don't read too much into it," he said.
"He's just at training and that's it. We've got plenty of people we can turn into David Pocock. Just put a green bib on him and say he's David Pocock."
AFP & AP
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