Richie McCaw slips into his favourite black jersey next week - and he intends to bring the heat.
It's not just the intriguing positional, but also a leadership battle with Wallabies captain David Pocock that looms in Sydney.
The world-class opensides will come to blows for the first time as opposing skippers on the international stage. It adds another dimension to an evolving rivalry.
Pocock has been busy of late, leaving the Western Force for a move to Jake White's Brumbies, and assuming the leadership mantle in James Horwill's absence.
That's enough to cloud anyone's mind, though he and coach Robbie Deans have been scheming for three weeks - two more than the All Blacks squad - after Australia's Super Rugby sides bombed early.
While Pocock's guidance in the three-match series of last-minute escapes against Wales was hailed across the Tasman, it is yet to be put under the white-hot heat that McCaw's All Blacks will apply.
There's also the decade-long Bledisloe Cup weight to bear. The Wallabies have been stewing on that drought too long.
You only have to recall the last time these intense rivals clashed - in the All Blacks' physically crushing 20-6 World Cup semifinal victory at Eden Park - to realise Pocock's temperament will be put under intense scrutiny. That night, nothing Horwill said, or did, could inspire his troops.
“If you look back to the internationals last year and the world cup, there will be a bit of feeling there, especially when you've got some time to think about it,” McCaw smiled.
“The Bledisloe means a hell of a lot. They haven't had it for a while ... I know they'd love to get their hands on it.”
When the blowtorch is on full force, captaincy can be a burden. Team-mates look to you for inspiration. Pocock experienced plenty of those situations with the struggling Force, but the All Blacks are a different beast. They never let up.
McCaw, with 61 tests as captain, noted it took time before he was comfortable with the dual player and leader responsibilities.
Deans also stoked the fire by anointing Pocock the world's best openside. McCaw now has a point to prove to his former coach.
“It does take time to be able to do both, to get your own game right and be able to lead well,” McCaw said.
“That doesn't happen overnight. From that point of view, you put pressure on him [Pocock] as a player, then you put pressure on him when the heat comes on. That doesn't just happen, but we've got to make sure of it.
“He made a real nuisance of himself when he played the Welsh. We've got to make sure we don't allow him to do that.”
After covering Kieran Read's absence at No 8 for the third test thrashing of Ireland and in the Crusaders' ill-fated playoff campaign, McCaw reclaims his preferred role next week, with young Chiefs tearaway Sam Cane likely to be on the bench.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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