By MARC HINTON in Sydney
Another week, another stride towards All Black immortality for New Zealand's captain fantastic Richie McCaw.
McCaw on Saturday night at ANZ Stadium in Sydney celebrated a milestone night with another important and influential performance for his beloved All Blacks as they pipped the Wallabies 24-23 in a thriller.
Not only did the 29-year-old Cantab surpass Sean Fitzpatrick's All Black record with his 52nd appearance as captain of New Zealand's iconic team (for just six losses, would you believe), but he also added another couple of marks for good measure.
With his third try of the Tri-Nations - a match-turner to boot, as he worked a clever move with Kieran Read off the back of a scrum - McCaw not only entered uncharted territory as the greatest scorer among All Black forwards but also the most successful against Australia with his eighth touchdown.
But more than the numbers game, it was the rugby one that he most excelled at. After a somewhat ragged first 50 minutes or so, McCaw led the Kiwi fightback with a splendid display, alongside his fellow Cantab Kieran Read. When they were joined in the loose trio by Jermome Kaino off the bench early in the second spell the game effectively changed.
That, more than another few marks to his name, pleased McCaw at the end of a night when the All Blacks broke a file cabinet's worth of records.
Not only do they now have the most consecutive wins over the Wallabies (10) and have become the first team to go 6-0 through the Tri-Nations, they have also smashed the record for most points in the competition (184) and tries (22).
"I don't get too carried away with those sort of things," shrugged McCaw at the end of a torrid encounter. "You've got to go out and do your job, and I guess when you reflect on those sort of milestones having a win under your belt certainly makes it nice. It's something I'm proud of but you can't do it without a good bunch around you. I just love playing for this team, being captain of this team, and it's a thrill every time I run out with the All Black jersey on."
McCaw admitted the All Blacks were badly out of sorts in the first half (trailing 6-14) and said the comeback had been about getting field position and starting to build pressure.
"Once we started that the confidence grew and the things we practised started to work. For the last 20 minutes it felt like we had a bit of momentum, and started to feel like we were getting on top."
McCaw said he felt momentum shift around the three-quarter mark. He wasn't sure that was because of his team's composure and better application or Wallaby tiredness. Probably a bit of both, he figured.
In terms of his try which was complained about by a bitter Robbie Deans after the match, McCaw adopted a fatalistic view.
"It's in the book now, isn't it," he said. "It was probably touch and go."
The skipper was not only an influential performer, but his decisions were on the money.. Down the stretch he turned down penalties and elected to go for tries, and those calls paid dividends for the New Zealanders.
"We needed two tries to get ahead, and it felt like we were starting to get on top. That's why I elected to have a drive and also a scrum. It worked out the right thing to do," he said.After yet another win from a tight spot, backing up on the two tries in the last three minutes that saw them sneak home in Soweto, McCaw felt his team's newfound mental strength had been about habit and partly experience.
"A lot of guys have played a lot of tests and been through a lot of experiences, both good and bad. So when you get into situations like that out there the key is be composed and keep believing in what you're doing. It's being able to keep everyone on task and do the things we believe are going to work. When it came down to having too get things right the guys you expect to do that are the ones putting their hand up. That's pleasing. It's not rocket science. It's everyone being on the same page and doing it well."
McCaw didn't say so, but probably the biggest reason these All Blacks are so cool under pressure has to do with the man leading the fightbacks.
A record breaker, and a game shaker.. That's the man who must now be considered one of the greatest All Black captains of all time.