All Black Skipper Richie McCaw Says He Feels Comfortable In His Role As Captain Of His Country・
One of the most telling moments of last Saturday・s opener against Les Tricolores occurred before the match had even begun. Following the first haka of the season, when the rest of his team had turned back towards their starting positions, captain Richie McCaw kept going, advancing up the baize a few metres more to eyeball the staunch French line. The message was unmistakable. Never mind the line of thinking that said the All Blacks would be easing into their work this year, getting the basics right in this Iveco Series before powering into the Philips Tri Nations: after six months with the black seven jersey folded in his bottom drawer, McCaw couldn・t wait to get started on The Year.
The indispensable flanker was a six-year-old boy running around Hakataramea last time the All Blacks won the Rugby World Cup; this year the 26-year-old clearly wants to be the second All Blacks skipper to get his fingerprints on the trophy. And although the teams no officially getting ahead of themselves just yet, McCaw・s thought a great deal about the elevated performance levels he wants to see this season. Starting, we found on the eve of his 50th test, with his own.
Q: This Iveco Series marks your first anniversary as captain. Richie, what do you think you・ve learned about yourself over the year?
RM: I guess the big thing is that as a captain you・ve got to make sure you get your priorities right and the top one is to play well, to make sure your own game is good. When you get that right, captaining the team and all the other stuff you・ve got to do as captain is reasonably straightforward, but I think I tried to do a little too much. Towards the end of the Philips Tri Nations and again towards the end of the Northern Hemisphere tour I was pretty knackered because I・d tried to make sure I knew what was going on everywhere. I realised perhaps off the field I could have delegated more and that I had to trust the guys around me to help, to use their considerable ability and knowledge and just allow them to do their bit. To a certain extent I did do that, but this year I have to allow that to happen more so I can focus on the first job.
Q: Does that mean you had games where you were annoyed with how you played?
RM: Oh I think the first couple of games last year I turned away a little bit. From then on I got stuck in and was reasonably happy during the Philips Tri Nations and end-of-year tour.
Q: You copped a fair bit of attention from the refs. Does that make it more difficult for you to get your own momentum going in a match?
RM: I don・t think I got too much more than in the past to be honest. I got a couple of yellow cards but that was through my own mistakes rather than refs looking at me more than usual. From my point of view it was disappointing but you learn all the time - if you think you・ve got it mastered that・s when you become unstuck I reckon.
Q: Players always say that they like to take things game by game but as captain, do you find it harder to do that?
RM: To some extent, yes. During the conditioning period I talked a few times to the coaches about how we were going to approach this year, beyond the first campaign. But once I get into test week I・ve got to allow the coaches to look ahead while I make sure I narrow my focus right down to what I・ve got to do.
Q: The other inherent danger of course is that you stop enjoying being a player・
RM: Yeah, and if you stop enjoying it you aren・t going to perform well and it・s going to be a real struggle. If you have one eye on the next game, you・re not going to get the immediate one right. I feel that・s subconsciously what happened in the Rebel Sport Super 14 with the Crusaders: we didn・t perform as well as we could have and there was, at certain times, a subconscious feeling that the All Blacks stuff was just around the corner.
Q: Did you watch the final?
RM: No! I had the weekend off rugby!
Q: So you grew as a captain in the Ab・s last year. Did you feel, ultimately, that you grew as a player, too?
RM: I think I did yeah. This will sort of contradict what I said earlier, but because I really wanted to stay up to speed with everything the team was doing, I was more aware of what I needed to do myself in my on-field role. The other big thing is that a lot of the guys have played a lot of games together now, and that means a heck of a lot. When you・ve been through a lot of different match situations together, next time you・re in that situation you sort of know what each person is going to do, and you know what you・re going to do. And that・s critical to be successful.
Q: Sean Fitzpatrick made a comment recently that losing the last Tri-Nations game in Rustenberg was a missed opportunity, allowing the rest of the world to view the All Blacks as beatable. How did you feel about that?
RM: That was a real reality check for the team. It gave us a jab in the arm, a reminder that there・s not a lot between us and international teams like South Africa. We had a really hard look at ourselves between that game and the end-of-year tour and said, We・ve played okay but we haven・t really gone to another level. So you can say it was a lost opportunity to go through the season unbeaten, but it happened and in hindsight I think that jab was needed to get that attitude that, We・ve got to go again. It reminded the guys that we・re not invincible and we・ve got to get the little things right every week (or we could get beaten by anybody).
Q: You must have been pretty dark at the time.
RM: Oh, you never like losing a test match like that! It was bitterly disappointing because it was so close and we could have won it.
Q: There are photos of you last year with staples in your face. That・s got to hurt?
RM: Staples? Nah. Not Really! It looks worse than it is. The best thing about using staples is that it・s quick and you get straight back on the field while you・ve still got all your adrenalin flowing. You・ve got so mush adrenaline when you・re playing that you don・t even feel it - I・ve been stitched mid-game with no anaesthetic and hardly felt a thing, but if you have the same thing done after the game it hurts like hell!
Q: the Frankenstein look is a bit freaky, I must say.
RM: Yeah, the doc got a few phone calls from her friends saying, ・I hope you・re going to take them out again after the game!・ Ahh well, it looks tough, I suppose.
Q: After you・ve had a hard day at the office, what do you treat yourself to on your day off?
RM: On the Sunday I do recovery stuff and I quite enjoy spending that day just being around the team. You reflect on what happened last night, have a yarn about it. On Monday we get a day off, and though you・re still a little bit sore, it is a chance to go do something you enjoy, reward yourself for playing well. Sometimes it・s golf with a bunch of the guys. If I・m in Auckland I like to go see some friends there or if I・m in Wellington I have some family that I like to catch up with. The worst thing is to just sit in your room and think ・Here we go again next week・.
Q: You must be so used to living your life on the road.
RM: But I quite enjoy touring, seeing different things. I just can・t wait to get over to the Rugby World Cup and see it all, I enjoy it even though it・s a long time away. You do, at the end of a tour think it・s so nice to be home and back in your own bed, but it・s not going to be around forever, being able to tour with the All Blacks.
Q: What・s the first thing you pack?
RM: I・ve got a SoundDock and iPod so I can have music in my room, so I make sure that・s packed in there.
Q: Did the conditioning window mean you had a chance to relish normal life, for a change?
RM: They were real busy weeks, but the best thing was having six weekends to myself. Normally I get to a Friday and my emotions are gearing up, ready to get into a game. It feels like the week is only just starting whereas during the conditioning period the week was done. You could have a couple of beers during the weekend, do some fishing, plan stuff - a few of us went out to Great Barrier one weekend. I had three weekends down at the house in Omarama gliding which was great. It was nothing out of the ordinary, really, but it was great to be able to think, ・Time to relax, what would I like to do this weekend?・
Q: Did you do the simulated altitude training with hand held hypoxicators?
RM: I・ve never tried that, to be honest. I・ve talked about doing it, but the time has never really been right to do it.
Q: How・s your French? I hear you made an after-match speech in French when you were over there?
RM: Well I tried! I don・t know much, and before that I didn・t know any. A Kiwi lady who works for the New Zealand Embassy there, she wrote out some lines so that I could say it, at least.
Q: Hit me.
RM: Je parle un pue francais・ How do you say ・a little・?
Q: Un peu.
RM: Un pue?
Q: Un peu de francais.
RM: Je parle un peu de francais. I・ve been doing a few lessons actually, but obviously it・s not sinking in that well!
Q: What do you like to read? Do you do a lot of reading?
RM: I do, actually. I quite like fast-moving action books, political thrillers. Lee Child, Tom Clancy, you know all that sort of thing.
Q: Really? And what do you eat for breakfast?
RM: I don・t eat a lot of breakfast, but you can・t miss breakfast so I・m just a cereal and toast man. Usually cornflakes or Weetbix. I never get sick of continental (breakfasts).
Q: Cornflakes and Tom Clancy. Very salt of the earth. No fancy hotel smorgasbords, fruit compote and maple nut muesli for Richie!
RM: Yeah, I dunno if it・s a good picture actually! I・m reading for study at the moment, mind you, for my commercial pilots license. That・s a bit of fun. I haven・t started yet really, I・ve just got the books and I・m reading through to try and get to the point where I can study.
Q: What about helicopters?
RM: I・m keen to give them a go at some point too. But they・re pretty expensive to learn. I・ll have to play a few more years first.
Q: Are you following the Americas Cup?
RM: Definitely. I can・t say I get up and watch the races live, but each morning I・m keen to know how they・re going. During our conditioning camp in Auckland, we went down to Team New Zealand, they showed us over the boat.
Q: They・re not unlike the All Blacks, in certain respects, with that large, structure team and four yearly pinnacle.
RM: Oh exactly, there・s a lot of the same things. Graham Henry has done a bit of work with them and I think Robbie Deans did too, with Grant Dalton. We・ve learnt from some of the things they do and perhaps vice versa. They・re training real hard for one shot, you know. It・s not mush different to what we・re doing.
Q: Getting back to this series, was it difficult dealing with all the talk that you were going to cream this French side, let alone Canada?
RM: I think the All Blacks are expected to win every time and the measure of how good you are and how good your team is, is if you can perform to your standards no matter who you・re playing. That・s where we・ve got to get to: to stick to our own standards, whether we・re up against the best or the worst in the world. That・s the challenge we・ve got. And, of course, the French are a real challenge.
Q: Do you feel different, the moment you・re all kitted up in Black and ready?
RM: Yeah I do. Once I put the jersey on I get a real sense of people having put their trust in me. The black jersey brings out the best in you, that・s why it・s special, and that・s why you always stop and have a look at it before you put it on. You hope your best will be good enough to do what you have to do for the team.
Q: So there are still times you feel it・s quite surreal being All Black captain?
RM: Definitely. I was flicking through the paper the other day, saw the team listed there and seeing my name with the ｩ beside it - I still think gee, you know, that・s me. I still have moments where I think hell, I・m touring with the All Blacks, you know? I know it・s a clich・ but you・ve got to keep telling yourself not to take it for granted. It・s healthy to remember that it・s a very special thing to have the chance to do.
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