Bevan Hurley is the Herald on Sunday chief reporter.

All Blacks: Pressure? What pressure?

Aaron Cruden was among those taking part in the captain's run at Trusts Stadium before the final. Photo / Getty Images
Aaron Cruden was among those taking part in the captain's run at Trusts Stadium before the final. Photo / Getty Images

Pressure? What pressure? The men with the hopes and dreams of 4.2 million people resting on their muscular shoulders exude calm in the lead-up to tonight's Rugby World Cup endgame.

The final countdown began on Friday night, with a team meal at TriBeCa restaurant in Parnell.

The All Blacks were relaxed, joking around, said co-owner Mark Walynetz, as they tucked into marinated raw kingfish. "Everybody here was on a high," he said.

"Even our three sons wanted to come and wait tables. We were hoping that the food that we serve them is going to power them to win the game."

Head chef Hayden McMillan and the rest of the kitchen offered their services free and afterwards had a photo taken with several of their heroes, including a professorial Piri Weepu. The Naked Samoans comedy group, including Oscar Kightley and Scribe, had the team in hysterics with their performance.

Walynetz added: "The team were really relaxed, joking around."

For just $50 a head, the squad ate platters of crispy pork belly, followed by pan-fried snapper, chicken breast or scotch fillet. TriBeCa's two French waiters were kept well away from the food preparation, Walynetz joked.

A couple of players watched the third-place playoff between Wales and Australia, before the team jumped back on the team bus about 10pm for an early night.

IT IS Saturday morning, and ABs captain Richie McCaw has breakfast with Sir Richard Branson, his daughter Holly and her fiance Freddie Andrews.

McCaw, an accomplished glider pilot, tells space-flight entrepreneur Branson that he wants to boldly go where no All Black has gone before and travel into space.

Sir Richard Branson, for his part, describes the captain as the "world's greatest living legend of rugby" on his blog.

A few hours later at the final press conference, a hush descends as McCaw saunters into the Robert Laidlaw Room at the Heritage Hotel in an All Black shirt inscribed with his initials and a pair of knee-length cargo pants. Rugby writers stroke their chins and chew their pens nervously - but a laid-back McCaw says he won't be losing any sleep before the game.

"If you get too wound up and anxious you will waste a lot of energy."

McCaw reveals he has never yet touched the Webb Ellis Cup and didn't fully realise what it would take to lift the trophy in the 2003 or 2007 campaigns.

"I just want to get out there and show that this team can play its best when it really counts," he adds.

Five All Blacks, including star first five Aaron Cruden, join a group of prizewinning women fans for a yoga session.

Late in the afternoon, at the captain's training run at Waitakere's Trusts Stadium, Weepu and Israel Dagg knock over drop goals from all over the park. Ma'a Nonu races his young son Mercury around the running track, drawing huge applause from the watching families.

For their final supper, the All Blacks aren't taking any chances with raw fish - they eat in-house at the team hotel.

THIS MORNING, each player will go through his own, personal routine.

Reserve halfback Andy Ellis will play cards and drink coffee. Fullback Dagg will lose himself in his oversized headphones.

Wing Cory Jane will sleep in late, skip lunch and joke around. "I used to get nervous and it was terrible but now it's mostly excitement," says Jane.

The players will eat an afternoon meal, then most will get strapped. Some need it to cope with niggly injuries or to hold their battle armour in place or just to pass the time.

Then, it's time for a team meeting before boarding the bus and switching into game mode. This is quiet time.

Each man focuses on what is about to happen; many are lost in their own thoughts as they listen to their music.

Team hierarchy dictates that senior players sit at the back of the bus. McCaw, Brad Thorn, Nonu and Weepu. The coaches and managers sit at the front.

Graham Henry doesn't like to interfere in the preparations of each player.

"There are no final words," he says. "It's their time. It has to be their time. They have to get their own minds right and settled and on the job.

- Additional reporting: APNZ

- Herald on Sunday

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