By MATT CALMAN - The Dominion Post
Another chapter of All Blacks history is about to be written in Wellington. Ahead of the test against Australia, All Blacks captain Richie McCaw gives reporter Matt Calman a tour of Westpac Stadium.
Richie McCaw has never watched a game from the comfort of a Westpac Stadium corporate box.
But he is gracing one for the first time to promote the stadium leading up to the Bledisloe Cup test.
He stands on the balcony outside and cranes his neck.
It's a great view, but tomorrow his will be better - just before 7.35pm he will be at ground level about to launch into a haka with the expectations of the nation on his shoulders.
Above him, about 25 invited guests, including a couple of politicians, will pack into the Westpac corporate box one of 64 at the venue.
A bar fully stocked with wine, beer and non-alcoholic drinks will cater to their needs and roast-lamb platters, three-course meals, salads and seafood platters will do the rounds.
Looking to the field, McCaw tells The Dominion Post about his most vivid memories of playing at the stadium.
He mentions last year's "freezing" rain and windswept test against Ireland, lifting the Ranfurly Shield from Wellington with his Canterbury team-mates a fortnight ago, and the first test he played against South Africa in 2002, which was so physical he could hardly move the next day.
But the memorable 48-18 trouncing of the British and Irish Lions four years ago was "probably for me one of the better games I've played. That would be the pick of them out here."
McCaw is at the stadium to fulfil his role as a Westpac ambassador. Westpac has just announced a further 10-year term as stadium sponsor.
Stadium chief executive David Gray, Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast, Westpac representatives, radio disc-jockeys, a television crew, and a winner of a radio competition to meet McCaw are on hand for the announcement.
On the field a flag marks the spot Australian captain John Eales famously kicked a last-ditch penalty to beat the All Blacks in 2000.
A left-footed McCaw lines up a kick from the spot and misses, but his next strike curls just inside the right-hand upright.
He then lies on the ground and holds the ball for photographers as Ms Prendergast tries a kick then the group laugh as one of the mayoral shoes comes loose and flies into the air.
Amanda Papp-Goodhue won the chance to meet McCaw when her husband phoned in for a radio station contest.
"He's pretty cute," she says. "He could leave his slippers under my bed any time."
Tomorrow night, up to 600 catering staff will work feverishly to feed the 36,000-strong crowd.
The stadium's catering manager Susan Comrie, from Spotless, says nearly 11,000 punnets of hot chips, about 36,000 bottles of beer, nearly 3000 hot dogs and more than 2000 small bottles of wine will be consumed tomorrow night.
In the stadium's control room, security staff will scan the crowd inside and outside the stadium for smuggled alcohol and bad behaviour using 36 CCTV cameras which can zoom in on any of the 36,000 seats.
The control room is were the stadium's own production manager sends images of the game, crowd shots and statistics to the two big screens at either end of the ground.
The All Blacks' dressing room is a typical rugby changing room. The shower block has 13 shower heads in a communal area, and the toilet has three urinals, two toilets and three sinks.
Strapping tape holds a door open to a warm-up area at the far end.
McCaw says people often ask him what the changing room is like and he replies: "It's somewhere to hang your coat up or bag up and that's about it. You don't play the game in the room."
The names of Wellington players are taped to each cubicle. While there isn't much in the way of dressing-room etiquette, you "make sure you don't sit in their seats", McCaw says.
He remembers the first time he held his first All Blacks jersey before his test debut against Ireland in Dublin eight years ago.
"I remember the first time I went into the manager's room to get my jersey ... I just stared at it and tried it on."
McCaw is about to play his 76th test and says before the game he will take a moment to reflect as he does before each game on the privilege of wearing the black jersey.
"Each time before I put the jersey on and before I run out I always `just take a moment to have a look at it' and just remind [myself], `Don't ever take it for granted' and `you're pretty lucky to be standing in the All Black changing room about to play a test'.
And I always remind myself of that."
RICHIE'S GAME DAY
8.30 - 9AM: McCaw tries to stay in bed for "a while" but rises by 9am and heads for breakfast of a couple of eggs, Weet-Bix, fruit and toast. This week there is an odd number of All Blacks, so he is rooming alone at his inner-city hotel.
11AM: He often "grabs someone" from the team and leaves the hotel for a wander around town for a coffee and to "kill time" before lunch.
Midday: Lunch back at the hotel is a "couple of sammies" and then there's a couple of hours to kill. McCaw packs his "number ones" (formal attire) for after the match and makes sure his shirt is ironed. He checks he has his mouthguard, game boots, spare sprigs and warm-up gear. "I usually have a bit of a think about the game that night. I have in my mind how we're going to play."
2.30PM: McCaw and the team head out to practise lineouts and back moves inside usually at the Renouf Tennis Centre when in Wellington. When they arrive back at the hotel, McCaw heads to manager Darren Shand's room, where the test jerseys are laid out. He'll shake hands with Shand and pick up his 76th test jersey tomorrow.
3.30PM: He has a pre-match meal of "some chicken, a bit of mashed spud and some spaghetti or baked beans". Kickoff is at 7.35pm, so it's important to have plenty of "fuel on board".
AFTER MEAL: Heads to his room to have an hour or so of quiet time. He usually reads. His favourite books are thrillers: "Tom Clancy or Lee Child that sort of thing."
5PM: It's time to get strapped up for the game the left ankle McCaw injured last year, the right knee he hurt earlier this year and his fingers and thumbs. "I start each season trying to strap nothing but, as the season goes on, a few things get picked up."
6PM - 6.30PM: Brief team meeting. McCaw then arrives at the ground and heads out for his own 15-minute warmup before the captains' toss at 6.45pm. The first thing he does is head to the pitch to check the ground conditions and the wind direction.
7.10PM - 7.20PM: Before leaving the changing room the team may huddle briefly but generally "guys are very much in their own space". The players and coaches say very little before the game, McCaw says.
At 7.25pm, the players run out for the anthems and the haka.