By GREG FORD - Sunday Star Times
One of the many hallmarks of Richie McCaw's captaincy has been an aversion to saying anything even mildly contentious.
Yesterday, McCaw the diplomat, holding fort at Camp All Black, stayed to script.
He gave the Springboks, who arrive in Auckland tonight, not the smallest crumb to feed off, with one tiny but significant exception.
In a concession of sorts, McCaw confirmed the All Blacks were using last year's 3-0 drubbing by the Springboks as motivation for a term sadly almost extinct in the modern sporting lexicon: revenge.
"There is definitely a little bit of that," he said.
"We felt like we never performed like we could have last year. The Africans are a good team but they are not a team that is unbeatable too. So there is a bit of that."
It was a welcome departure from the usual McCaw patter.
The All Blacks, as most of us appreciate, are obsessed with "processes". Good "processes", we are (maddeningly) told, ensure good performances. But this year's Tri Nations is about one thing – vengeance – making it probably the most important of McCaw's distinguished career.
He, like the rest of the All Blacks, failed to perform to their potential last year. And if the team suffer a similar fate this year, they will hand Peter de Villier's side an all-important psychological edge heading into next year's world cup.
The current mood in the All Black camp is of general contentedness. But a loss on Saturday will change all that, and McCaw knows it.
"We have to start off well to win the Tri Nations," he said.
"We have got two home tests and if we can get two wins there, it sets you up pretty well, and if we don't, it is pretty hard to win.
"Certainly we are aware we have to win and to do that we have to break them down and make sure we get our performances right. We have the ability, we just have to make sure we do it for long periods in the game."
All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith echoed McCaw's sentiments.
"We are rated No1 in the world but I don't think anyone in the squad actually believes we are No1 in the world after losing to the Boks last year," he said.
"So I think there is a bit of that – really wanting to prove ourselves. There is nowhere to hide. We have a full squad, a healthy squad, we've got every opportunity and there is nowhere to hide.
"You just have to front up at 7.35 at Eden Park on Saturday and do the business."
Smith said the Eden Park factor was important but would count for little against the Boks.
"I don't like building up the home thing because it gives the impression that there is a difference.
"We have won our last nine tests and at least half of those have been away. But it's good to be at home and we have an opportunity next Saturday night, and we have to be good enough. They are going to come primed to do what they did last year so it's going to be a real test."
Both teams will name their starting XVs on Tuesday.