Richie McCaw has confirmed England have not lost their status as the team the All Blacks most love to beat.
Past players have often said losing to England was the most unpalatable experience of their careers and McCaw eventually conceded the feeling remained among the current team ahead of tomorrow's year ending test at Twickenham.
"I don't know if you potentially pass it on, but playing at Twickenham, it's a place first of all that's very enjoyable to play at, but yeah, you enjoy success there, there's no doubt," he began today when quizzed on the topic.
"I'd quite like that to continue there tomorrow. I think, yeah, that's probably the way it is still."
The sentiment has been fuelled over the years by incidents including England's infamous lap of honour after losing to the All Blacks at Old Trafford in1997.
But it is essentially a mark of respect for the one home nation whom the All Blacks genuinely fear.
"It's always a physical challenge, that's the main one," McCaw said.
"When you go to Twickenham with a full stadium it's a pretty cool place to play. There's always a bit of atmosphere around.
"The history over the years, England won the World Cup in '03 and for me that meant they were a team to beat. Then the first time I played them I got knocked over.
"So from a personal point of view you realise the challenge that's there and want to test yourself against that."
McCaw is one of only five current All Blacks, along with Keven Mealamu, Andrew Hore, Ma'a Nonu and Ali Williams, to have lost to England, either in Wellington in 2003, or in London in 2002.
But he said the younger players knew this was a huge test after viewing England's close losses to Australia and South Africa, and the task may be made more difficult by the forecast of snow on match day.
On a personal note tomorrow's test marks McCaw's final test before the six month sabbatical he hopes will keep him going through to the 2015 World Cup.
There is some irony that the openside is feeling mentally and physically in peak shape for what will be his 13th test of the year, and that he is playing, arguably, the best rugby of his illustrious career.
McCaw said he was injury free, physically bigger than ever, and satisfied he had played consistently well all season.
"I've enjoyed being able to play most weeks this year and being part of a team that's looked to get better, that's what's excited me," he said. "From a mental point of view it hasn't been a drag, it's been a challenge I've enjoyed."
Incredibly he has been nominated this week for the eighth time in 11 years as IRB international player of the year. McCaw is the only player to have won it more than once with 2006, 2009 and 2010 on his CV.
He was predictably humble in his self assessment of his form, but acknowledged his ball carrying and physicality were areas of improvement.
A major plus had been putting on some extra weight during his rehabilitation from the broken foot he carried through last year's World Cup.
"If I look back on the year I'm pretty satisfied how I've been playing. I've probably added a bit of size which has helped in the physical impact side of things...
"I've got a few extra kgs. I guess having the foot injury helped get me into the gym. I was a bit worried about that and whether it would affect me. But the way the game is going especially in the loose forward. Guys who can bring a bit of presence physically that's the way the game's gone...
"This year's been more about being in the front line of being physical with the tackling and it seems to have worked reasonably well."
And of course, McCaw will stick to the mantra that has endeared him to rugby followers as he asks his body and mind for 80 more minutes.
"I'm a bit disappointed if I come off with petrol left in the tank. It means I haven't played hard enough, but that's the nature of it.
"If the teams played well then that's where you feel the satisfaction in the changing room. People say is it enjoyable? Well, sometimes it isn't but it's the satisfaction afterwards of knowing you've done the job well, that's what I enjoy...
"If you've had a good run around and earned yourself a beer and a steak then you've had a good day."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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