WELLINGTON • Four All Blacks careers that have spanned a combined 52 years and accumulated 472 caps will start to wind down today, as New Zealand begin their rugby World Cup build-up with a Test in Apia, Samoa.
Captain Richie McCaw, prop Tony Woodcock and hooker Keven Mealamu are expected to retire from top-class rugby after the global tournament in England.
Fly-half Dan Carter will join Racing Metro after the World Cup.
However, at the age of 33, he is unlikely to return to the All Blacks following his three-year contract with the French club.
The quartet are among the five New Zealanders to have played 100 Tests and helped the side to a decade of dominance.
Two other stalwarts, centre pairing Ma'a Nonu (94 Tests) and Conrad Smith (85), who are not playing against Samoa due to Super Rugby commitments, will also leave for France after the Sept 18 to Nov 1 World Cup.
Under Steve Hansen, who took over following the 2011 World Cup victory, a new crop of players has emerged to help the side win 38 of 42 Tests, with just two losses.
He will test the depth of his player pool in Apia, with 17 of his original 41-man squad unavailable due to the Super Rugby final between the Wellington Hurricanes and the Otago Highlanders.
"It's really important we establish this is a big Test. If we rock up there thinking it's about sunscreen and a holiday, we will get thumped," he warned.
"It presents us with things that we haven't had in front of us before, which I find great. I love those challenges because you find out about people in different circumstances. How well do they cope?
"When we have to name this (World Cup) team, we want the people... with the best mental fortitude. It's going to take a lot of mental fortitude to win the World Cup."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE