'A Captain's Cup' - an exclusive eight-part Radio Sport podcast series every Friday in which Louis Herman-Watt and Daniel McHardy interview every Rugby World Cup-winning captain. In part 7, Richie McCaw discusses lifting the trophy after two failed attempts.

Richie McCaw's third crack at the World Cup was different. The first he was a greenhorn, largely happy to be there. By the second he was captain and focal figure as the weight of a nation collapsed upon the team after their quarter-final exit.

This time, come 2011, continuity of leadership allowed the All Blacks to adapt, change and accept World Cups were different to any other test environment.

"You did start to reflect on what it takes to win a World Cup," McCaw said. "It's not the same as what happens in every other game. As much as you try and convince yourself of that, it's different. You get every team at their peak and there's more pressure – that's probably the biggest difference."


Premium gold

Where previously New Zealand Rugby ushered in sweeping change following failed World Cup campaigns, Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith secured reappointment in 2008 and, with it, the ability to shape the next four years by learning from their experiences.

Read more:
David Kirk and the 1987 All Blacks
Nick Farr-Jones and the 1991 Wallabies
Francois Pienaar and the 1995 Springboks
John Eales and the 1999 Wallabies

Martin Johnston and 2003 England
John Smit and the 2007 Springboks

Unlike Henry, who obsessed over refereeing decisions and every detail of the '07 quarter-final defeat, McCaw found it somewhat easier to move on.

He returned home and initially stewed over the result but, come the New Year, the resumption of Super Rugby proved a welcome distraction.

"We had a pretty successful 2008 with the Crusaders so it was easy to forget about it.

"I was pretty lucky to spend six months with Robbie Deans and his crew and six months with Graham Henry so I had the best of both worlds.

"There were arguments for both but, by and large, the fact that the coaches got another crack – and I got another crack as captain – it gave you the chance to learn the lessons otherwise the same thing might have happened.

"It became real again when we came into camp. It was a question of how much do you look back on what went wrong or do you just carry on with what served you well up until that quarter-final?


"The fact we were all back there again forced us to have a look at what you can take out of it. It certainly made sure you were well and truly planted on the ground to figure out what you needed to do.

"I think that's a reason the team has been pretty successful. No matter whether it's in sport or business it's about keeping things that are good going but being able to keep reinventing yourself so it doesn't get stale."

The post 2007 World Cup period wasn't easy for the All Blacks. After successive losses to South Africa in Dunedin, Australia in Sydney, the mountain of pressure quickly returned.

The following year, as the experimental law variations turned rugby into a kick-fest, the All Blacks lost all three games against the Springboks – two of them at home.

"That caused quite a lot of soul searching because they were effective at the ball in the air and we weren't at being able to defuse that so that caused a lot of issues. We had a lot of thinking to do to get the game right."

Gradually, the inclusive team leadership improved. McCaw and other senior players got better at speaking honestly to challenge each other and the coaches. It took time to evolve their game, to fix the lineout and their high ball technique, but the 39-12 victory over France in Marseille proved something of a turning point.

Despite suffering dual losses in Port Elizabeth and Brisbane on the eve of the home World Cup, the All Blacks arrived with a vastly improved mental state. They felt prepared for anything.

"This time we expected things to go wrong. We understood you're going to have friends and family close by which is a positive but can also be a challenge.

"People telling you 'what if you don't win?' but simple things like saying 'what if we do? How great is it to be playing a World Cup for the All Blacks in New Zealand?' Turning things around like that made you excited rather than a weight on your shoulders. We all tried to talk like that.

"It didn't take away the pressure. It didn't change the fact that four years work would come down to one game or some moments in those games. It wasn't wondering whether you could handle that but knowing that was going to come and knowing the best team to deal with that will win."

In this space the All Blacks overcame losing three first five-eighths – Dan Carter, Colin Slade, Aaron Cruden – to then grimly cling to a one-point lead in the final against France and secure their first World Cup for 24 years.

"We hung in there and we survived when things were thrown at us. We didn't do anything stupid or try and be heroes on our own. We stuck together. That's the sort of things you need when the heat comes on and perhaps we didn't have four years earlier."

App users click here