By DUNCAN JOHNSTONE - Stuff
The magnitude of the Tri-Nations opener against the Springboks isn't lost on the All Blacks but captain Richie McCaw says his team can't get caught up in the hype.
The two teams - world champions South Africa and world No 1 ranked New Zealand - square off at Eden Park tomorrow night.
With the All Blacks trying to stop a three-match losing streak to the Boks and defending a proud record at Eden Park, headquarters for next year's World Cup, this is no ordinary test. There is clearly an edge to it, something McCaw acknowledged.
"It's great that there is a lot of talk and interest in the game. That's the way it should be and with everything that has gone on in the last 12 months, that's the reason why," McCaw said as he led the team's captain's run at the ground today.
"We have to be careful that we don't get caught up in that. We want to go out and deliver and make it a game that Kiwis enjoy and we will enjoy that too."
McCaw said it was important for his side not to get caught up in the negatives of their recent run against South Africa.
This was a fresh opportunity and a match that would provide a good barometer for his team.
"We went on the end of year tour and we played some good rugby and the first three weeks (this year) we have been happy with. But I guess with the top two teams in the world playing we will see where we are at. Hopefully we are where we think we are.
"It is important, it's the start of the Tri-Nations and we start off with two home games. We are against a pretty good team and we are going to have to play our best. We have had a good start to the year but this is another step up that we need to make as a team. So yes, it's really important."
McCaw conceded that his side were fuelled by a desire to right some wrongs from last year. But they also wanted to achieve their own high standards rather than rely on revenge as a motivator.
"I'd be lying if I didn't say there is a little bit in there. But you can't just rely on that to mean there is going to be a difference out there. That might add a wee bit of extra edge but the guys are pretty excited about getting into this.
"The first three weeks we have played some pretty good rugby but the want to put together performances for 80 minutes is something that is driving us as well."
He felt this test would be decided by "the team that puts the most pressure on and takes the opportunities".
"I don't think we will get as much freedom as we got in June (against Ireland and Wales). But we got opportunities that we didn't take then and we can't afford to do that now. We have to build some pressure and play at the right end of the field.
"The reality is in these games there aren't that many opportunities. Every one you get you have to take. We have to force the Springboks into mistakes, build pressure on them and create some opportunities.
"A lot of it will come down to that desire and the will to last right till 80 minutes because sometimes one thing near the end might be the difference."