It took New Zealand 24 agonising years to claim the Webb Ellis Trophy back, so Richie McCaw was quick to admit that it felt slightly surreal to be handing it over to the IRB again last night, just over two years later.
The timing wasn’t the only part of last night’s ceremony at the Aviva Stadium that felt wrong. Such is the form of the All Blacks just now that they will be expecting to have the bauble back in their belonging sooner rather than later.
Their record for this calendar year stands at played 13, won 13 and, with just Sunday’s game against Ireland in Dublin to go, the odds on them being the first international side to go unbeaten for a year in the professional era are beyond short.
“Yeah, it is a funny old thing to be doing, to be handing it back, but every time I see the cup, I always get reminded of the amount of energy and what you’ve got to put in to winning,” said McCaw last night.
“Looking forward to 2015, it will take the same amount of effort, that type of work and attitude and everything coming together if you want to do it again. Handing it back is probably a reminder to myself of what happens in two years’ time.”
McCaw took a six-month sabbatical at the start of this year in order to prolong his career as far as that 2015 tournament in England but victory against Ireland would allow this All Black side achieve something truly unique. Coach Steve Hansen has already warned his side not to let their minds wander though and McCaw was singing off the same sheet in the build-up to their latest outing.
“You have to be careful, you know? Everyone knows about the things at stake. What’s going to make the performance on Sunday is doing what you always do. There’ll be a bit of extra excitement and edge for those things.
“But you have to start the week preparing properly to play well because we’re going to have to. That’s the reality of playing Tests. For those of us who have been around a while, we know that the games where we haven’t performed there has been something to do with the mindset or attitude in terms of preparation, so that’s what we have to get right.”
Ireland have, of course, never bettered the All Blacks and it is well nigh impossible to imagine that changing this weekend, given the form of the visitors and the woeful performance served up by the hosts against the Wallabies last week.
Add in the 60-0 trouncing handed out to Declan Kidney’s Irish side in Waikato Stadium in the summer of 2012 — the last time these sides met — and the Kiwis could be forgiven for dropping their guard some. That said, McCaw hasn’t forgotten the second of the three Tests played 17 months ago when the touring Irish came within a whisker of claiming a first New Zealand scalp, in Christchurch.
“We’ll expect a team that has a chance to turn things around from what happened a couple of days ago,” he said of Ireland. “And if you look back to last year, you can see the difference between one week and the next, what it can be. One week could have gone either way and the next week was different. Their preparation was probably different like us and that’s where you can get a huge swing in terms of performance. For us, we’re expecting an Ireland team to turn up and play particularly well. And we want to do so again.”
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