NZPA - (11/09/2010)
The darkest hour is still vivid enough in the memory, the evening of October 6, 2007, inside Cardiff's Millennium Stadium as his team lost to France 20-18.
Yet ask Richie McCaw about the highlights of his tenure as All Blacks rugby captain and there's a pause. Not surprisingly, the six losses on his watch are etched deeper than the 45 times he has led the national rugby side to victory.
Should he experience another success at the Wallabies' expense tomorrow night at ANZ Stadium, McCaw will mark his latest achievement -- eclipsing Sean Fitzpatrick's record of 51 tests as captain -- appropriately.
Although in keeping with his leadership style, McCaw's actions on the field will always resonate louder than words, or in this case, numbers.
"I'm pretty proud of that but it's something you worry about later. You want to go out and perform well this week and win that game," he said, as the All Blacks completed preparations for the Tri-Nations finale and third Bledisloe Cup test of the season.
McCaw may not place much stock in footballing statistics, but in his case they are relevant.The 29-year-old is the All Blacks most successful long-term captain, his win-loss ratio superior to Fitzpatrick's 41-10 record from 1992-97.
An age gap meant the 92-test hooker was not exactly an inspiration for McCaw as he was growing up in North Otago, though he has grown to appreciate the Aucklander's attributes.
"He's someone who, in his latter years as a captain, had a fairly big influence on how things went," McCaw said."To be mentioned in the same sort of breath as him is pretty cool."
McCaw clocks up test 89 and, after giving it some thought, finally nominates two tests of his reign as particularly noteworthy.
"The very first one where we were very close to losing to Wales back in 2004, that was a good one to remember," he said of the All Blacks squeaky 26-25 win at the Millennium.
The second Bledisloe test of 2008 at Eden Park probably rates highest.Rushed back into the side after Robbie Deans marked his first coaching experience against the All Blacks with a stunning 34-19 in Sydney, McCaw returned from injury seven days later to guide New Zealand to a 29-point victory which retained the Bledisloe Cup.
"That was one I was managed to get out and perform OK in after a bit of time off. That was pretty cool," he said, downplaying the impetus he offered that night."I was a bit lucky, the boys were hurting that week anyway so they might have performed whether I was playing or not."
McCaw's leadership has not been beyond reproach -- his tactical awareness was criticised after that galling World Cup quarterfinal loss to the French in Cardiff. But it's a role he remains comfortable with, thanks to input from senior players such as Mils Muliaina, Dan Carter, Brad Thorn and Keven Mealamu.
"I've got a good bunch of guys around me these days that have played a lot of tests," he said, sharing the kudos."We all work together, it's not just me really."