Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Why the All Blacks never make direct reference to Richie McCaw

If there's an elephant in the room, take it out, don't ignore it. This seems to be the All Blacks' thinking in their first season in 15 years without Richie McCaw.

Throughout June, they carefully, rather than studiously or religiously, avoided making direct reference to McCaw. There was no mention, neither from coach Steve Hansen, captain Kieran Read nor any of the senior players, of getting used to life without the man they would consider the best All Black in history.

The focus was about looking forward; about creating a new chapter and "re-establishing" dominance. It had to be this way, because the last thing the team needs or wants is the spectre of McCaw looming over them. The All Black ethos is no man is bigger than the jersey: it's about passing through and handing on. But there was no point in pretending it was going to be an easy transition into the post-McCaw era.

No player had quite the same presence as McCaw. Captain from 2006, McCaw was a huge driver in changing the All Blacks from a talented but emotionally fragile side, to the most mentally robust, disciplined team with demanding personal standards.

His influence was huge and, really, the only way to move on was to keep his legacy at arm's length; to shut out the comparisons and questions about the difficulties attached to rebuilding a new team without him.

McCaw bought into that plan, knowing the best way he can help the team in retirement is to stand well back and let them get on with it. Asked if McCaw had been in touch ahead of the first test of the year, Read said no - contact between the two had been minimal.

A clean-sweep against Wales was a cracking start and the perfect way to show that All Black life goes on, no matter who comes and goes.

But the challenge of keeping the legend of McCaw at bay will become significantly harder in a few months when, firstly, the pressure increases through the Rugby Championship and, secondly, the former captain is splashed across big screens when the film Chasing Great is released.

A film crew were with McCaw for the last year of his career, hoping to capture what it took to lead the All Blacks and make history by becoming the first to win back-to-back World Cups. Even if they have captured only half the essence of McCaw, viewers will be given a remarkable insight into the lengths of the former captain's dedication, professionalism and relentless pursuit to push himself. They will see a man with near endless capacity to inspire and, when the lid is lifted, even just to see through a crack, it will become yet clearer what a phenomenon McCaw was.

It will also mean that, for the first time since his retirement, he'll have a major public profile at the same time as the All Blacks are in action. The elephant will be back in the room and the best way to take it back out will be for the All Blacks to storm through the Rugby Championship and ensure no one need focus on what they're missing.

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