By MARC HINTON - RugbyHeaven
Thursday, 23 August 2007
JOHN SELKIRK/Dominion Post (picture)
Richie McCaw may be the best player in world rugby, voted so by his peers, pundits and public, but the All Blacks captain says the next couple of months in France will define him as a player.
That, said McCaw as he reflected after the first day of the All Blacks' final pre-World Cup training camp in Auckland, was a reality of the modern rugby environment where World Cup success is paramount.
So all the individual accolades (and McCaw has won pretty much them all, including a clean sweep of the international gongs last year) and all the team trophies that the All Blacks have collected over the past four years in effect count for nothing.
To be considered a true great, McCaw knows he must lift the Webb Ellis Cup in Paris on October 20.
"It's definitely going to (define me), it's going to define this team," he said yesterday.
"A lot of the guys have played a lot of rugby over the last four years and we've been pretty successful over the four years.
"But what happens in the next six weeks will be how you remember what this team is about.
"We're pretty proud about what we've done so far and that can't be taken away from us now. But it'd be nice just to put the icing on the cake. That's what this World Cup is about. Once you get to the knockout stage its three big games you've got to win and I know we've got the ability to do that if we get it right."
McCaw also revealed the approach being taken by the All Blacks to help them best handle the pressure that will be heaped upon them when they arrive in France next week.
They are overwhelming tournament favourites, yet they haven't won the global title in 20 years, which is a theme they'll hear repeatedly until they end that drought.
"I always say if you could pick any team, any guys to run out with, you wouldn't pick anyone else ... Graham (Henry) says having pressure's a privilege. If you haven't got it you might as well do something else," McCaw said.
The 26-year-old openside flanker said he was happy with the physical and mental state of his team as it assembles in Auckland, going through its first training run in the morning before attending an official farewell luncheon.
The players will have a hitout in Auckland today against a scratch "Barbarians" side comprising club and fringe provincial players.
The skipper wasn't worried about the low-key nature of preparations this time around.
He said the All Blacks would have plenty of time to build form and momentum through their pool and following a tough campaign he felt the players needed some down time ahead of the intensity of a World Cup.
"It would have been bloody tough if we didn't have a break after the Tri Nations. That was two months of pretty tough rugby. We had to have a break, and I think it's going to work pretty good for us."
All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith said the signs in Auckland were positive.
"We're tracking really well," said Smith.
"I think (that) physically we're good. We're a lot sharper than we were in the Tri Nations, plus there's a monkey off the back in terms of a bit less anxiety.
"We've done a lot of work on our execution. We understand we were making too many errors, and we've just got to look to keep nailing that."
What if.... what will happen then?
Well, we will still be here. But will the guys be able to accept the result?
I have always said that a final would be just enough (it would be the best result for the ABs during the World Cup in 12 years...) But don't worry guys, whatever the result :
We will still be here!!!