James Mortimer - (13/01/2011)
While the World Cup will be the topic on everyones lips in 2011, All Blacks captain Richie McCaw has said that he would rather enter such a season as the top ranked team in world rugby, as maintaining the All Blacks performance is as crucial as potentially breaking a 24 year drought.
McCaw, who led his team to 13 from 14 test wins last year, cleansweeped the Investec Tri Nations, became the first captain to lead a team to two Grand Slams, became the most capped New Zealand test captain and with Mils Muliaina became the most capped All Black of all time - had a stellar season in 2010.
He also won the International Rugby Board's (IRB) World Player of the Year award for a third time.In a wide ranging interview with Sunday News, McCaw said that the World Cup was now a focus, but that all seasons in between are as important as far as the All Blacks are concerned.
McCaw believed that while other teams focused on the four year cycle and building their team for a World Cup, the All Blacks needed to perform and were proud of their status as the number one ranked nation in world rugby.The All Blacks finished 2010 ranked by the IRB as the best side, closing the year on 93.19 ranking points, with Australia (87.45) second and South Africa third (86.44). England finished as the highest ranked Northern side, placed fourth (82.48).
Even if the All Blacks did not win the World Cup, McCaw said nothing would wipe years such as 2010 from the history books.
"It will never count for nothing, because for the All Blacks every year – no matter whether it's a World Cup year or not – they've got to go out and perform," McCaw said to Sunday News. "Other teams probably get a bit of scope to not have to do that but with the All Blacks you don't.
"Yes, this year is going to be the year that's in the front of everyone's mind but what will be will be and we'll give ourselves every opportunity and do everything we can to win the thing."
"I'm still bloody proud of what we did last year. We had a bit of a hiccup in 2009 but we rectified that. In 2008 we were pretty good also. That's the type of thing I'm proud of. I want to make sure we do the years inbetween right and then I want to win the World Cup and I'll be doing everything I can to make that happen.
"I would hate to win the World Cup when we've had crap years leading up to it.
"It's never just for nothing. We've kept the All Blacks at the top and at No 1 in the world. This year will have its challenges but I'd hate to be No 3 or No 4 and think it's still all right to win the World Cup. That's not the way Kiwis operate."
While others, including coach Graham Henry, did not like to be drawn into questions on how the All Blacks were placed coming into a World Cup year (or in comparison to the tournament in France), McCaw was happy to put across his view.
"It's different. We played really well at the end of 2006, we went into 2007 in good nick and were probably in the same shape as we are now," he said.
"But you've got to remember that there are a lot of players around who were there at the beginning of 2007 and they understand that whatever we've done [on the end-of-year tour] means bugger all for this year.
"We go into this year knowing we've got to be on the job, just like we were at the beginning of last year when we were thinking about how we can play better and what we need to do.
"You've just got to get excited about it and see it as an opportunity. A lot of us are bloody lucky to get another go at it but nothing is for sure on that.
"Right up to the end of Super Rugby there will be players who played in the team last year who might not make it back into the squad.
"You've got to see it as an opportunity and once you get there, you give it everything you've got.
"But I would have been bloody disappointed if we had been prepared to accept losses and poor performances last year just so we could prepare for the World Cup."