All Blacks captain Richie McCaw has confirmed what most people had thought all along: the duel with Wallabies No.10 Quade Cooper became personal, and somewhat bitter.
In his autobiography The Open Side, released in New Zealand today, McCaw says Cooper's infamous knee to his head at a ruck in Brisbane was deliberate and had caused him to lose sight of the game plan and target the Wallabies five-eighth.
He also revealed that he told the NZRU that the Graham Henry-led ticket was the better coaching option than appointing current Wallabies Robbie Deans after the All Blacks' 2007 World Cup failure.
“There was a bit of post-game controversy around Quade Cooper's attempt to knee me in the head as he was extricating himself from a ruck,” McCaw wrote. “The intent of what he was trying to do pissed me off more than the execution. Shortly after that happened, I was carrying and should have passed, but I lit up and I saw Quade standing in front of me and clattered into him instead.
“I was disappointed in myself doing that, letting it get personal. There's no need – players like Quade get sorted. Sooner or later they get their beans.”
Before the next time they met, in the World Cup semi-final at Eden Park in Auckland, McCaw wrote that the mood in the All Blacks' camp was focused and confident, in contrast that of the rest of the country.
“We heard during the week that the Aussie camp was pretty confident. I'm not sure where the information came from but there are people in and out of the teams' hotels all the time, and secrets are hard to keep. However accurate the rumour was, it was great to hear they were confident. I don't go along with most people who say the Wallabies are more dangerous when they are confident. I reckon they're more vulnerable.
“I don't know whether the Aussies heard any rumours about us, but if they'd heard the truth, they would have been alarmed: that was the best prepared All Black team I've ever been part of. I knew the Aussies were going to get it.”
McCaw also declared that that feeling had been confirmed as early as first quarter during the semi-final. “As early as the 20-minute mark, I could see the inevitability in their eyes. They knew this day wasn't going to go that good for them.
“James Horwill had won the toss and chose to kick off, to put pressure on us. Which Quade immediately blew by kicking it out on the full.”
McCaw also says that after the 2007 World Cup he developed “a strong preference” for the reappointment of Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith as a working unit over his former Crusaders mentor Deans, and had question marks about Deans' ability to work collaboratively.
“Robbie doesn't appear to want to be challenged by his assistants and won't allow the kind of full-on debate that Ted [Henry] encourages with Smith and Hansen,” McCaw wrote in a frank chapter dedicated to the Henry v Deans issue. “Robbie's approach is to say, 'This is what we're doing,' then convince people that's the way it's got to be. He's very good at that.
“But when you look at the record of Robbie's assistant coaches, there's quite a lot of turnover and fallout. Robbie's intransigence and reluctance to delegate might have been a factor…if you look at the names of some of Robbie's assistants. Colin Cooper, Vern Cotter, Don Hayes, Todd Blackadder. It's tempting to draw the conclusion that if Robbie gets a strong assistant coach, the assistant won't last, and if he gets one that lasts, he's not that strong.”
By contrast Henry's ability to present his team to the NZRU board made his decision a simple one, McCaw wrote. “The applications in front of the NZRU are telling. Robbie hasn't named his assistants, though [then Auckland coach] Pat Lam's has been mentioned in some reports. But Pat hasn't coached at Super 14 level yet. So the question actually is: Graham Henry, Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen or Robbie Deans and unknown assistant coaches? That's a critical difference right there.
“…so when [NZRU chairman] Steve Tew phones me for an informal catch-up on this and that, I tell him I'm happy to work with either, but I do have a view on which option might be better for the All Blacks.”