Richie McCaw defends under-fire England captain Chris Robshaw

England take on New Zealand tomorrow

New Zealand skipper Richie McCaw today offered support to Chris Robshaw by backing his captaincy and credentials as an openside.

Robshaw faces the final assignment of a traumatic autumn tomorrow when England come up against the world champion All Blacks at Twickenham.

In presiding over frustrating defeats to Australia and South Africa, Robshaw's decision-making has been questioned by team-mates on the pitch and criticised by pundits off it.

Furthermore, his suitability to wear the number seven jersey has been challenged, most notably by Lions coach Warren Gatland.

But 115-cap veteran McCaw believes the 26-year-old can only benefit from his recent ordeal and views him as a legitimate openside.

"The best way to learn as a captain is to go through those experiences," the Crusaders flanker said.

"There's no doubt he'll be better off having been through tight matches. I've had that myself over the years.

"The key to leading is being able to make the right decisions when it counts.

"But the right decision is not clear all the time, so to say something was right or wrong, it's easy in hindsight.

"The best way to learn is on the job. I feel he'll have learnt along the way.

"He's playing particularly well. People ask if seven's the right position for him, but these days you pick the right mix of loose forwards for your team.

"You must have a bit of everything, rather than be an out and out six, seven or eight.

"If you can have a mix of players who can do all the jobs then that's best for the team.

"That's obviously how their back row is working. I've been pretty impressed with the way he's gone."

While Robshaw will welcome sympathetic words from such a highly-regarded player, he can expect no charity at Twickenham tomorrow.

The All Blacks are targeting a 10th successive victory over England that will enable McCaw to reflect on an unbeaten year when he begins his six-month sabbatical next month.

It has been a remarkable 14 months for New Zealand dating back to last autumn's World Cup triumph and the gap between themselves and their Test rivals is wider than ever.

Setting the tone is the enduring brilliance of perennial IRB player of the year nominee McCaw, who hopes to return to England as All Blacks skipper for the 2015 World Cup.

"Over the years I've always prided myself on being as consistent as I can," he said.

"I look back on this year and feel like I've been reasonably consistent. There are different parts of my game that have been a lot better.

"I've added a bit of extra size this year and that's helped with the physical impact side of things.

"I was a bit worried if the extra size would affect me but with the way the game is going, especially in loose forwards, you need to bring something physically."

McCaw played through the pain barrier at last year's World Cup due to a foot injury, but has remained fit throughout this season.

"Physically I'm in pretty good shape right now. It took a while but it came right," he said.

"From a mental point of view this year hasn't been a drag, it's been a challenge that I've enjoyed.

"The guys realise that if we get the job right on Sat, it will reflect on a pretty good year.

"If we don't then all the hard work we've done we'll look at through a slightly different lens.

"There's no doubt I'm excited about having some time off, but I haven't thought too much about it because I want to

make sure I perform well this week, both personally and as a team."

PA

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