The remarkable Richie McCaw feels in better shape than he has for many years heading into his final rugby Test in Australia.
Along with five-eighth Dan Carter, the openside flanker and New Zealand captain is expected to play before Australian fans for the last time in Saturday’s Rugby Championship decider in Sydney.
They won’t be shedding too many tears, though, as Wallaby wins have been thin on the ground in the McCaw-Carter era.
They may well, in fact, view the occasion as one final chance to boo their favourite kiwi villain but the odds are it will only inspire him to greater deeds.
“You must be doing something right if you get the odd boo here and there, that’s the way I look at it,” McCaw said on Friday.
“I think it just makes you even more determined sometimes.”
For a 34-year-old 140-Test warrior whose body is always in the thick of the sometimes brutal breakdown action, McCaw is still in very good nick.
“I think back to a bit younger when perhaps I wasn’t as well conditioned and probably wasn’t as good at looking after myself,” McCaw said.
“I probably struggled with niggles and injuries more in the middle part of my career than I do now.
“The body is in reasonable shape and I physically feel in the best condition I have for a long time.”
McCaw is one of the few modern generation All Blacks to have played in an unsuccessful Bledisloe Cup campaign back in 2002, when Australia last held the coveted trophy after splitting two Tests.
“I still remember how much it meant to the guys to win it back when they didn’t have it and put yourselves in the Wallabies shoes,” McCaw said.
“They will be desperate to get their hands on it and this is what makes it such a great occasion is that it means so much to both teams.
“I never want to give it back, that’s a motivator every time.”
“I love nothing better than to keep the Bledisloe in the cupboard.”
Among his most memorable games in Australia was a 50-21 walloping of the Wallabies in July 2003, though that loss was avenged in the World Cup semi-finals less than four months later.
“That’s a memory I’ll always have as to how quickly things turn around in sport,” McCaw said.
Incredibly, he has tasted defeat in just 10 per cent of the Tests he has played.
“They still grate absolutely,” McCaw said.
“But sometimes your best learnings come from some of those matches.”
His glorious Test journey began against Ireland in Dublin in 2001 and he knocked on with his first touch.
“I probably wasn’t even 100 kilos when I first started and you probably wouldn’t get away with that these days,” McCaw said.
His old ally Carter missed the final stages of New Zealand’s 2011 World Cup triumph through injury but gets one last chance for glory in that tournament in Britain next month.
“There’s maybe a little bit of disappointment about what happened in 2011 but I know he’s determined,” McCaw said.
“He’s had a rough couple of years with injury but getting a few games under his belt he’s certainly starting to feel a lot more comfortable.
“Just seeing how hard he’s worked to want to be in good shape and play well. From my point of view that gives me a lot of confidence.”
RICHIE MCCAW’S WONDERFUL BLEDISLOE CUP RECORD
Played 32, won 26, lost 4 drawn 2.
HIS OVERALL TEST RECORD
Played 140, won 124 lost 14, drawn 2.