By WYNNE GRAY
In this era of early appointments for player interviews, it feels strange to be speaking to Richie McCaw the day before he captains Canterbury into Ranfurly Shield battle.
But the All Black loose forward is a exceptional person and these are special times with his return to NPC rugby after months with concussion.
This is the start of what he calls his "mini-season", a batch of perhaps six matches before his expected return to the All Blacks for their end-of-year tour to Europe.
"I have a lot of unfinished business," he said.
His stellar career hit its first international speed-hump this season after he collided with All Black team-mate Xavier Rush in the June 12 test at Carisbrook against England.
The effects of the impact were not immediate, but McCaw's concussion ate into his season so much that he played just one more test.
He was at his most frustrated when he did not recover sufficiently to play in the Tri-Nations series.
But the All Black vice-captain is back and being interviewed the day before he captains Canterbury against Southland.
"It does not worry me too much and personally I do not have a lot of issues with the media," he said.
"There has been a bit of an us-and-them line between the All Blacks and the media in the past, but this year I think the attitude has changed."
McCaw does not want to create a precedent, nor does he want to be interviewed the day before every game. But he agrees that at times, and even before tests, he does not have a problem with the concept.
"I think in New Zealand rugby if doing an interview before a game ruins your preparation then you have a few things wrong with how you prepare," he said.
As a generalisation he thought the Wallabies were a side who were relaxed before tests and then flicked the switch, while the All Blacks were more intense with their gradual build-up throughout the week.
The 23-year-old made his comeback to rugby last week as No 8 for the Canterbury development side against Taranaki. He felt rusty and to compound his problems, he was also suffering from the flu.
Tonight, though, he is back in his familiar No 7 jersey and has taken over from stand-in skipper Sam Broomhall.
It had always been coach Aussie McLean's plan that McCaw would captain Canterbury when he returned to the NPC from test duty.
The openside flanker said he had some way to go to be ready for test rugby, but if he stayed injury-free, the rest of the NPC, and maybe the playoffs, would be a strong base for an All Black tour.
"That is the goal. If I can get back and play some good footy, then the target has got to be to tour," he said. "I have had a lot of time off and I have got to look at things sensibly."
McCaw has endured some gentle ribbing from former team-mate Leon MacDonald, who recalled the times when McCaw gave him some stick about his concussions.
"I have been getting some e-mails about having a mushy head, it is my turn now," he laughed.
There have also been a few jibes between McCaw and Auckland lock Ali Williams, who is struggling with similar post-concussion complaints as his All Black team-mate.
"He is very frustrated and I know how that feels," McCaw said.
He resumed full contact training before Canterbury's successful shield challenge against Bay of Plenty and received his medical clearance, too.
He decided, however, it was best to play a game for his province's B team before stepping back into the NPC.
Watching Canterbury, he had been as bemused as most to explain why they were not as sharp as their reputation. "We may have lacked a bit of passion, that's what it looks like, and we have struggled a bit. We have not had the sort of stuff which Bay of Plenty and Taranaki have brought to the competition.
"We have absorbed play without giving it back to the opposition.
"We have not been as good as we would have liked. We have struggled to explain it and if I had the solution, coaching would be easy."By Wynne Gray Email Wynne