All Blacks captain Richie McCaw is “itching” to return to Test rugby and will be included in the squad for the Rugby Championship.
Coach Steve Hansen confirmed a rested McCaw is progressing well in his return to fitness and will be one of 31 players named in his squad for the four-nation tournament which kicks off against Australia in Sydney on August 17.
Openside flanker great McCaw, 32, has completed a six-month break from rugby since last year’s tour of Europe and is undergoing a fitness programme under the eye of All Blacks’ fitness trainer Nic Gill.
He has been running and lifting weights for several weeks and is now starting to work on contact and ball skills training.
Hansen says McCaw will play some club rugby next month and then possibly for the Crusaders in the latter stages of their Super Rugby campaign.
The pair spoke after Saturday night’s 24-9 third-Test win over France and Hansen says the 116-Test veteran is “itching” to return.
Hansen holds no concern about McCaw being off the pace in Test rugby.
“I don’t think we have to worry about his mental capabilities. Time and time again he’s proved that he doesn’t take too long to jump back into the saddle,” he said.
“And he’s coming into a side that’s ticking along pretty good.”
McCaw’s inclusion means at least two players from the 32-man squad for this month’s three-Test whitewash of France will be omitted when the Rugby Championship squad is named in five weeks.
Hansen says he is unlikely to introduce any other players, although Super Rugby form will be monitored.
“There’s always opportunities but you’d have to say we’re fairly happy with the group that we’ve got.”
Kieran Read has been the captain in McCaw’s absence, while Sam Cane started all three French Tests on the openside flank.