Steve Hansen may have brushed it aside as the “silliest word in rugby” but there has undoubtedly been something in the air around the All Blacks this week.
If it looks like revenge, smells like revenge then it probably is revenge and Richie McCaw, New Zealand’s captain, admitted that yes, there is an extra frisson that will accompany them to Twickenham this afternoon.
A year ago McCaw could do nothing to stop England inflicting one of the blackest days in New Zealand rugby history. Alongside him on Saturday are a dozen of the beaten side – the wing Charles Piutau and centre Ben Smith are the additions – from their solitary defeat in 33 matches and the worst any of them had suffered in an All Black jersey. They have not lost since.
“There’s been a bit of an edge there as you can imagine,” said Dan Carter of his team’s preparations. “A few of us have got memories from last year so that adds a bit of edge. Last year we were a little bit flat perhaps.”
Earlier in the week a slogan was spotted scrawled across a whiteboard in the team room in the hotel. “This is,” it read, “about history – human nature.” And it is human nature to want, however you might dress it up, revenge.
“Yup, I hate [losing],” said McCaw, who has won more Tests than any player in history. Of his 122 caps, 108 have ended with him on the victorious side. “You compete in sport to win. When you don’t it hurts. The reality is some days it happens and the measure of how good you are is how you bounce back.”
There is another slogan popular around the All Black camp. Israel Dagg, who also admitted there is an “edge” to all this, and McCaw both trotted it out yesterday. “This is as good as it gets, against the English in a sold-out stadium,” said Dagg. “There is a bit of edge. There are a few nerves but we don’t want to play the game before it’s played.”
McCaw too spoke of not playing the contest out in your head before today comes, not letting what happened last year and the fact of Carter’s 100th cap – let’s do it for Dan, and all that – distract from the nuts and bolts of the task at hand.
“That’s hugely key,” said McCaw. “Over the years I’ve seen you can use history as a bit of extra motivation but once you get into the game it is not going to be the thing that gets you over the line. You have to stick to the process of what you are going to do. That’s preparing well and going out there and executing it. We all want to play well for Dan, but you do that by getting process right.”
McCaw and Carter are only half New Zealand’s 100 club. There is also Tony Woodcock and Keven Mealamu. This is a breathtakingly experienced side with 842 caps between them. England can muster only 314.
“The guys who have been around a while understand what it takes to perform,” said McCaw, who compared the sense of excitement and tension through the week to the build-up to the Rugby Championship decider in Johannesburg last month–a stunning contest won 38-27 by the All Blacks. “That’s what we are after. We know we are going to be in for a big battle.
We want to go out at Twickenham and perform. It is one of the toughest places to play. A few of us have been around the world and been through these experiences and that is where you want to test yourself.”