New Zealand captain Richie McCaw said there was a special “edge” to the world champions' clash with England at Twickenham.
New Zealand captain Richie McCaw said there was a special “edge” about the world champions' clash with England at Twickenham on Saturday following their shock 38-21 loss in London last year.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has been at pains this week to play down all talk of “revenge” for New Zealand's lone reverse in 33 Tests and their record defeat by England.
But openside flanker McCaw, speaking to reporters at New Zealand's London hotel on Friday, said this wasn't just another game.
“A few of us have got memories from last year so that adds a bit of edge,” said McCaw.
“This is the part of the season when you start looking at the England side and we don't want to drop our guard,” added McCaw with New Zealand, who've won all 12 of their Tests in 2013, just two matches away – they end their season against Ireland in Dublin next week – from completing the first perfect calendar year by an international side in rugby union's professional era.
And he agreed with Hansen the atmosphere was similar to the build-up ahead of New Zealand's Rugby Championship-clinching 38-27 win over South Africa in Johannesburg last month – only the fourth time in 12 attempts the All Blacks had triumphed at Ellis Park.
“There is a question mark, isn't there, about what's going to happen on Saturday?,” said 2011 World Cup-winning captain McCaw.
“That's why you play the game.”
Saturday's match is set to see New Zealand fly-half Dan Carter join McCaw as one of only five All Blacks with 100 or more caps, with two of the others, hooker Keven Mealamu and prop Tony Woodcock in the front row.
But McCaw said it was important to keep both that looming landmark and the memory of last year's stunning defeat in perspective.
“You can use history as a bit of extra motivation but at the end of the day once you get into the game it is not going to be the thing that ensures you get the performance and gets you over the line,” added McCaw.
“We all want to play well for Dan, playing his 100th Test, but you do that by getting the process right and going and performing,” explained McCaw, who will be winning his 123rd cap on Saturday.”
Injuries, which saw Carter miss the 2011 World Cup final, have checked the star outside-half's run to 100 caps and McCaw said: “There is no doubt when you are injured there is frustration.
“But the fact he's played a couple of games in a row now, you can see him enjoying it.”
Concerningly for England, who McCaw said had improved since last year, the All Blacks great reckoned there was more to come from his side after they were pushed hard before beating France 26-19 in Paris last weekend.
“We felt last week we played well in places but we didn't put a performance together for 80 minutes.
“We had a pretty honest debrief for that game and we want to improve.”
As for thoughts of storming 'fortress' Twickenham, the venue for the 2015 World Cup final, the 32-year-old McCaw said: “It would be quite nice to do that to be honest!
“Playing away from home you can let the atmosphere get on top of you or can you embrace it and enjoy it.”
Although McCaw's career has largely been one of repeated success, he said he still “hated” defeat and that the pain of New Zealand's comparatively rare reverses remained as raw as ever.
“You compete in sport to go and win. When you don't it hurts.
“The reality is some days it happens…I think the measure of how good you are is how you bounce back and turn things around.”
New Zealand were laid low by a virus in the build-up to last year's defeat by England, although they were keen not to blame the loss on illness.
But McCaw was confident lightning wasn't about to strike twice.
Asked if the squad were now “virus-free”, he replied: “We're all good.”