By GREG FORD, Sunday Star Times
Sunday, 12 October 2008
Lifting his competency as captain is Richie McCaw's main aim on the grand slam northern hemisphere tour next month. The All Black skipper told the Sunday Star-Times he's a more competent and confident team talisman than a year ago.
But he now wants to take his captaincy to another level.
"I think I am a better captain for the experiences I went through last year," he said. "That's the way I am looking at it and hopefully on this tour I will be better than I was in the middle of the year."
McCaw's burgeoning leadership credentials were one of the highlights in what has been to date a successful season for the All Blacks. The New Zealand Rugby Union's trophy cabinet is again well-stocked after capturing both the Tri Nations trophy and Bledisloe Cup last month.
In the wake of the Tri Nations victory McCaw was compared to the great Sean Fitzpatrick. His leadership was that good. Given the criticism he copped in the wake of last year's Rugby World Cup, it has been quite a turnaround.
With the benefit of hindsight, McCaw said the chiding he coped in a damning report into the All Blacks cup campaign may have helped.
"Up until that point [in his career] I had never really had that," he said. "I didn't take too much notice of it to be perfectly honest. I knew there were things I needed to do better. That's the nature of the role. You are not going to be perfect from the start. You have to learn from [experiences like Cardiff]."
Last Monday (October 6) was the one year anniversary of the team's loss to France, something McCaw wasunaware of.
Asked to state something tangible he'd learnt in the year following the cup, McCaw said: "I think I have more confidence in what I do, to back your gut instincts. It takes time to be able to do that. They might not be right all the time but you have to be decisive at times and it's something you can be when you get familiar with the role. I'm also able to draw information out of guys. We have a number that have played a lot of rugby. So it's good to work out ways of drawing that out."
His own form has been pretty good, too. Most thought he was the stand out player of the Tri Nations despite missing a couple of tests through injury.
McCaw said he was hungry for more rugby this year. The prospect of claiming another grand slam and the novelty of playing a test on neutral ground against Australia had whet his appetite.
"We have five big tests that are all going to be quite different like the Hong Kong match. I'm sure motivation will be high for that one and a chance of a grand slam, even though we have to do it one game at a time. If you look at it as a whole, it's bloody exciting and a chance to have something tangible at the end of it if we do it right. We're also taking 35 players so there will be some new fellas. Hopefully I'll get the opportunity to help them perform and be good All Blacks. I can now see the influence you have on the team by doing things well and getting enjoyment and satisfaction from that helps."
McCaw's All Blacks will also have to endure another rules switch. The northern hemisphere unions are trialling a different set of Experimental Law Variations, under some duress. McCaw is aware of the resistance in the north.
"I think some of the laws they are bringing in are bloody good," he said. "A lot has been made about all the switching but from a player's point of view it's not a big deal at all. When we went back to the old laws for the three test before the Tri Nations I don't think we even talked about it. We discussed it a wee bit, things like lineout numbers and when we went into the Tri Nations we had to tweak a few things. But it hasn't been a big deal. I think the Tri Nations was fun to play in and most people enjoyed watching it, or that's the impression I had. So if the players are enjoying it and the public enjoy watching it, that has to be a positive."
McCaw said the fate of the rules would probably be decided by referees.
"I think the refs have to be hard on the tackler and making sure he gets away and allows the ball to be played and that's where the Super 14 was good when they were hard on that. I hope everyone has an open mind. It will be interesting to see what sort of game we get and perhaps after the November series everyone will be in a pretty good state to make a judgement."
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