By MARC HINTON - Stuff
Richie McCaw doesn't want to hear about defections or injuries or inexperience ahead of the three June tests. They're all just excuses not to perform, as far as the All Blacks captain is concerned.
Instead the man who will be the only specialist openside flanker through the three tests against Ireland (June 12) and Wales (June 19 and 26) says the focus must be on getting the simple things right.
Looking to run before they could walk was a big reason the All Blacks started so badly last year, reckoned McCaw, and with a handful of new faces in this squad and some big-hitters missing through injury he felt it was doubly important to get the basics right from the off this time round.
"We've got to make sure we get everyone on the same page straight away," said McCaw at the squad unveiling in Auckland. "The first couple of weeks especially is about making sure we do the simple things to ensure we perform well as a rugby team, and keep building as we go on.
"If you try and get everything sorted straight away that's where it becomes messy and disjointed. That was the experience we had last year. The first couple of weeks we had a few injuries and we tried to be at the finish point straight away and perhaps didn't quite get the basic things right."
But McCaw was enthused about a squad that included five uncapped players and 14 all told with fewer than 20 tests to their name, and felt there was still enough experience at the core of the group to provide the necessary leadership.
He would also not be using injuries as any sort of an excuse, despite the toll it's taken on the resources.
"This is the team we've got, and we've got to make the most of it," he added. "It's going to be up to us [senior players] to make sure the expectation of what we've got to do is kept up there. There are no excuses. We've got to lead the way with that.
"Injuries happen and if you let that affect you it's not a good indication of where you're at. It would be nice to have everyone available, but that's not the case so we've got to make the best of what got."
In terms of the squad's walking wounded, with Richard Kahui, Mils Muliaina and Tom Donnelly in major doubt for Ireland at the least, McCaw said it was a non-issue.
"I presume they're picked because they're going to be right at some stage over the next three weeks so the guys that are fit to play that first game have got to make sure we're ready."
McCaw was also excited about the addition of rising Hurricanes star Victor Vito to the loose forward contingent, saying he'd been a player that had impressed him for a while now.
"I remember first seeing him in the Under-19s, and what impressed me was he's a pretty intelligent sort of player and I think over the last couple of years he's developed a bit more of a physical presence out there.
"He's certainly got the skill and ability to play with the ball and is good at lineout time. He's starting to bring that physical edge as well so it's good to see him get a crack."
McCaw even went as far as to nominate Vito and Jerome Kaino as backup No 8 options ahead of himself should something happen to Kieran Read in and around the initial tests. The All Blacks are in the unusual position of having three specialist blindside flankers among their quintet of loosies.
In terms of the looming Ireland challenge, McCaw had no doubts about the difficulty factor, especially with just 10 days to prepare.
"They've always been tough no matter what, so we've got to make sure we get it dead right. There are a few of us who have been in this situation a fair few times and we realise what we've got to do.
"We've got to make sure we get all the simple things right from the start so we can perform."
McCaw also had mixed feelings about the extra week off he had to get himself right for the test campaign after his Crusaders were knocked out at the semifinal stage of the Super 14 season.
"I guess that silver lining was we had a week to refresh a wee bit, especially after our couple of trips [to South Africa]. It's taken a few days to get over that and then start looking forward to the next part of the season. So there is a silver lining but I wouldn't have minded being over there for the final, to be honest."