For someone so universally acclaimed, it was strange to hear new All Black captain Richie McCaw question his personal assurance.

But this is an unusual end-of-year tour to Europe - a swollen squad, nine changes for Sunday's test against Wales and the captain's armband passing from Tana Umaga to McCaw.

There were the usual rounds of praise for the 23-year-old's elevation, including a special moment outside the team hotel when New Zealand Rugby Union president and former All Black skipper Tane Norton passed on his congratulations.


"Just go and enjoy it," Norton said to the 59th All Black test captain.

McCaw intends to, and claimed he was not burdened by the thought of his revamped side defending a 51-year unbeaten record against Wales.

"I am quite excited by it," he said. "There are times when having a lot of younger guys can be a bit easier. They are all going for it.

"For this team to do consistently well in the future we have to have guys out of a group of 40 who can make a seamless transition. If we can increase the core of the team then we will be able to build a very strong squad.

"Gone are the days when 15 can turn out each week. People don't realise you can't do that. We need a lot of guys ready to go ... to slip straight in."

For McCaw, that means taking over the leadership at Millennium Stadium on Sunday. He is ready, but admits it has taken time to work his way into a senior role.

"It was only this year that I started to feel I had something to offer the All Blacks," he said.

"I just started to feel comfortable and get into it after being made vice-captain."

All Black coach Graham Henry said that bypassing Umaga was no sign of disrespect to Wales.

The squad had a surfeit of midfielders. They had all been promised a game, so Umaga had to sit out this international.

McCaw had captained Canterbury this season, he was the All Black captain-in-waiting, and this was the time to blood him.

It was only three years ago that McCaw made his debut against Ireland, the star rookie of that NPC season, promoted to test openside flanker. In Cardiff, he will captain the All Blacks in his 25th test.

"For several years I just felt like a rookie and even last year, I did not quite feel like a senior part of the team. That is just the way it goes, but this season, I have felt more at ease."

Strangely, it is the year when McCaw has played his least international rugby after being sidelined with the after-effects of concussion.

He sees the irony and also laughs at his familiar practice of wearing headgear for the opening 10 minutes of a match before dispatching it.

"It is a confidence thing, I feel I have got to start with it. It is not superstition, I always like it, but then I get hot and feel buggered after 10 minutes, so I get rid of it and then feel refreshed."

McCaw does not want to change anything about his play because he has been promoted to captain.

"If you try and be something you are not then that is where you come unstuck, so you have got to go out and play well first and foremost," he said.

"I think if you are someone who does the business first then they will listen to you because they respect what you are doing. If you tell them to do things that you are not doing then they tell you to get stuffed."

When he led Canterbury during the NPC, McCaw said his biggest lesson was to tap into the knowledge of many players around him.

"It is not a one-man job."

The skipper

59th All Black test captain

Led Canterbury in NPC this year