The excitement of pulling on the black jersey is the overriding emotion for All Blacks captain Richie McCaw on the eve of the opening test of 2012.

The All Blacks take on Ireland at Auckland's Eden Park tomorrow - the same venue at which McCaw lifted the William Webb Ellis trophy almost eight months ago.

For McCaw, it's been a long wait. While the afterglow of winning the World Cup has filled much of the intervening periods, and 13 games for the Crusaders have also helped, McCaw explained nothing compared to the feeling of leading his country into battle.

"I think it's just exciting to be back in the black jersey and playing a test match at home," he said. "It's been awhile since we've done that, and you can tell by the excitement of the guys here that we're looking forward to it.


"It's a whole new level and we've got to make sure that we meet that straight away."

After pulling on the black jersey a record 103 times, you could forgive McCaw if the occasion failed to engender the feelings it once did. But the 31-year-old said his emotions would be very similar to the three players - Julian Savea, Aaron Smith and Brodie Retallick - wearing the silver fern for the first time.

"You do [get nervous] a little bit but good sort of nerves, I think. Probably excitement, more than anything. I think you get nervous about making sure you've done everything you can to get out and perform."

McCaw denied a suggestion the All Blacks would be underdone, given the relatively short week of preparation after last weekend's round of Super 15, and thought adrenalin would ensure the players had plenty of petrol in the tank.

"It's been the usual reasonably hectic week but I think we're in a pretty good space," he said. "There's only so much you can do - even if you had a bit more time, perhaps you could go over a few more things.

"But, at the end of the day, the excitement of getting out there and the excitement of test footy and getting into it is what it's all about. It's taken awhile to come around, this week."

If McCaw thinks the wait for this test has been tough to endure, he should spare a though for his counterpart. Ireland are yet to beat the All Blacks in 24 tests stretching 107 years, and few are giving Brian O'Driscoll's men any chance to break that drought tomorrow.

McCaw admitted he hadn't "had a close look" at the Ireland team - perhaps indicating the level of confidence within the camp - but said he was expecting a tricky and physical test.

"They've got some guys who have a lot of experience. When you've got guys like O'Driscoll and O'Gara, that's a lot of experience and they've been through a lot of different occasions."

But the All Blacks have some experience of their own, with 11 of the starting XV backing up from last year's final. McCaw backed the veteran presence to help iron out the rust and prevent history from being made.

"It's never going to be perfect, and we've got to accept that there'll be some mistakes. But it's how to react to those sorts of things that's the key. The guys that have been here before are the ones who are going to lead that, so it's good to have some experience.

"But it's not just going to happen - you've got to make sure you put it out there."