A FAVOURED memory from a sackful of All Black recollections for Richie McCaw was his test debut a decade ago in Dublin.
On a cool afternoon at Lansdowne Rd, the 20-year-old flanker claimed a man-of-the-match award, though after recently watching the game he declared himself unimpressed by the standard of play.
That test in November 2001 began McCaw's extraordinary test career, which reaches another milestone tomorrow when the All Black captain becomes the first player to reach 100 tests in the famous black garb.
"The game stands out," he said yesterday as he was quizzed about his landmark test.
"It was the first time you call yourself an All Black and I guess it is the dream coming true. I watched it not so long ago on TV and the game we played wasn't so flash, but in terms of memories that was one."
The 48-18 second-test victory against the Lions in 2005 stood out because of the result, the way the All Blacks played and a few other issues surrounding the game.
He said tests which left the greatest imprint were those where the All Blacks succeeded under the greatest pressure, games where they tested themselves against the toughest rivals. They were the most satisfying and there had been many of them in the past decade, McCaw said. Tomorrow would be extra memorable as well.
"It is pretty special. I don't quite know how to describe it to be honest, but I suppose when you take a moment to reflect: 100 tests ... When you first start you just want to play another one then another and to get to 100 I suppose is pretty awesome.
"I have always said you don't want to just make up numbers, it's what you do in each one and I hope I play as well as I can in my 100th as I did when I first started.
"That's the attitude I've always had but it's something for after the game.
"I've got to get through it first so then you can look back with a bit of pride."
Graham Henry has been McCaw's All Black coach since 2004 and was laudatory of his professionalism and leadership.
An example came in 2008 when the All Blacks were heading to Cape Town for a one-off test against the Springboks. They were up at 4am to catch their flights and McCaw called a team meeting to emphasise what was needed on the brief trip.
It was just one example that epitomised his standards and commitment to the team, Henry said.
McCaw had reached a marvellous milestone after surviving a remarkable decade of test rugby.
"I think more importantly he is the inspirational person for everybody in this room I would imagine, New Zealanders and the team, by being the person he is and the way he plays the game.
"I think it is a very special time, obviously it is the first time a New Zealander has achieved 100 games for the All Blacks so it can't be bigger than that."
McCaw's steel, his bravery, his ability to lead from the front and by example had earned him the players' total respect, Henry said.
Senior colleague Conrad Smith clocks up half McCaw's tally this weekend and had a special mention for his skipper.
"The thing I like about him, and there's lots to admire about him as a skipper, is his motivation and his drive," Smith said.
"I said it before. He will have a stormer of a game on Saturday and Monday morning he is the one who is getting everyone's minds on the job.
"I feel I am pretty motivated and maybe Tuesday or Wednesday I start thinking about the next game, but he's, you know ... and you need that for a captain, to have everyone focusing straight away on the next task. It is admirable and he does it time and time again and has been doing it for 100 tests."
The team had scarcely mentioned the impending feat but Smith was sure it would be on the pre-match agenda and there would be some serious reflection and post-match celebration.
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