By MARC HINTON - Stuff
Revenge may be the dish best served cold, but the All Blacks captain was doing his level best to downplay the emotional quotient for Saturday's Boks showdown at Eden Park.
It's fair to say there's enough hype around this Tri-Nations opener in Auckland without Richie McCaw adding fuel to the fire.Yes, the All Blacks owe the South Africans one - or two -- after last year's 3-0 whupping, and everyone knows that the New Zealanders need to reassert a bit of home dominance over such a dangerous foe just a year or so out from a certain global tournament.
But McCaw was toeing a more cautious line as he spoke to the media following today's announcement of a predictable, and experienced, All Blacks lineup.
"We've just got to be careful we don't play the game before Saturday because we've had an extra couple of days together. We've just got to make sure Saturday is the day we're ready to go," he said.
In other words, keep the excitement levels contained until you need them.An experienced team (there are a combined 325 test caps in the forwards; 346 in the backs) would help, reckoned the skip.
"There are times when you've got to think about it and times when you've got to relax a bit too. Hopefully the guys who have been around a while understand that."
Asked about the revenge factor, McCaw was clearly reluctant to buy into the storyline.
"I guess there's a bit of memory about last year and the guys who there are pretty keen to get stuck in again. It's been a while since we had a crack and we've had a while to think about it," said McCaw."We've just got to be careful we don't get too caught up in that... I've been looking forward to it for a while, and the reality is in the Tri-Nations with two home games to start we've got to win them if we're going to be in with a shot."
But there's no shortage of respect from McCaw when it comes to the Boks as a foe. He feels they have a depth to their rugby now that was once the sole preserve of the All Blacks and ensures that whatever the circumstances a quality team runs out on the pitch.
"The other thing is they're pretty physical," added McCaw. "You always realise you're in a test match. Even the games you win, they're still pretty hard matches physically. That's what you remember when you come off the field -- you know you've had a good old bashup."
McCaw also rates the Boks trio of Schalk Burger, Pierre Spies and Francois Louw as worthy competitors.
"The key is if you allow them to get across the advantage line off set piece and get nice easy ball there, that's when they come into their own. They're good players but they're not perfect and if you put them under pressure you can find areas to exploit."
And though McCaw was happy to acknowledge the Boks as the premier test in the game at the moment, he was not too keen to buy into the more long-reaching subplots to Saturday night's sold-out fixture.
"The long-term thing is building on what we did on the end-of-year tour and being better so at the end of this Tri-Nations we're in better shape than we were. So come this time next year if we keep aiming like that we'll be in pretty good shape."
McCaw was similarly bland on the matter of how important it was for the All Blacks' 20-test winning streak on Eden Park to be defended.
Some see this as a match that could have World Cup implications, and that if the Boks were able to win their first test in Auckland since 1937 they would be in the box seat for next year.
"That's secondary too," said McCaw. "It would be nice if that becomes the case, but it's not going to be the difference this week or next year. We do enjoy playing there and, hey, we'd love to keep that record going there and we certainly want to win on Saturday. But that's not the sole reason we want to do well. We want to do well because we want to beat the Springboks and win the Tri-Nations, and if it adds a bit to down the track that will be good."