Richie McCaw keeps focus on Scotland test
Stamping his authority and setting early tour standards have taken on greater importance for Richie McCaw as he prepares to hand over the All Blacks' captaincy baton temporarily.
McCaw is expected to lead his side on to Murrayfield in Scotland's capital city for the opening game of the All Blacks' four-match European tour, in seven days' time.
The rich history between the two sides suggests Scotland deserve the inclusion of the inspirational All Blacks skipper.
His absence would be perceived as a slap in the face of tradition.
But the following week in Rome, McCaw is likely to take a rest in the stands, with No 8 Kieran Read set to assume leadership, and Sam Cane destined for a start at openside flanker, as Steve Hansen trials his full 32-man squad in the first two matches.
Read has been earmarked as the longer-term leader for some time and McCaw revealed preparations for him to step up have been happening behind the scenes throughout this season.
"There's been injuries and stuff . . . There's always those opportunities. You don't want to wait until you have to [change captain].
"We've been making sure guys that fill those slots do it well."
Dan Carter, a veteran of 92 tests, is the other captaincy option.
Having missed out on leading the All Blacks against Canada during the Rugby World Cup through injury, Carter would be itching for the role. But the backline director and vice-captain is expected to start next Monday and possibly sit alongside McCaw in Italy.
After the shambolic 18-all draw with the Wallabies in Brisbane, McCaw will be keen to put a stake in the ground in Edinburgh and ensure standards are lifted from that poor performance, before taking a somewhat awkward backseat against the Azzurri.
Publicly at least, McCaw spoke of being comfortable with stepping back, but you get the sense giving up his responsibilities could be challenging. Usually, when he speaks, his team-mates listen.
"When you're not playing you've got to make sure you help the guys that are there and make it seamless," he said. "We've got seven guys in the senior playing group. There will be some of us who aren't playing at some point."
McCaw appeared uncomfortable when it was suggested to experienced centre Conrad Smith that it didn't matter who captained the All Blacks.
"That's fair to say," Smith said.
"Most teams you try and have a leadership group. If you are relying on one guy you are usually in a bit of trouble. I learnt that from this team. The All Blacks have done that well over the years."
Hansen then elaborated. "All great teams have got lieutenants as well," he said. "The strength of one person is good but if you've got five or six strong people, it makes it even better."
This week, McCaw's emphasis will be on the now - that being Scotland - but in the back of his mind he will be conscious of handing his duties over to Read.
"Personally, no," he said of the looming changes altering his approach. "There will be some changes but we've got to keep our focus on our performance where it needs to be. There is still a bit of disappointment with how we played a couple of weeks ago." Fairfax NZ