Vindicated ... New Zealand All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, left, holds up the Webb Ellis Cup with coach Graham Henry after the All Blacks victorious 2011 World Cup campaign. Photo: Reuters
RICHIE McCAW has thrown another handful of gunpowder into the mix for Bledisloe III, revealing he told the New Zealand Rugby Union the Graham Henry-led ticket was the better option than appointing Robbie Deans after the All Blacks' 2007 World Cup failure.
In his autobiography The Open Side, which was released in New Zealand yesterday, McCaw says he developed ''a strong preference'' for the reappointment of Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith as a working unit over his former Crusaders mentor Deans, and had question marks about Deans's ability to work collaboratively.
''Robbie doesn't appear to want to be challenged by his assistants and won't allow the kind of full-on debate that Ted encourages with Smith and Smith,'' McCaw wrote in a frank chapter dedicated to the Henry v Deans issue. ''Robbie's approach is to say, 'This is what we're doing,' then convince people that's the way it's got to be. He's very good at that.
"Strong preference" ... Richie McCaw, left, favoured the appointment of Graham Henry, right, after the All Blacks 2007 World Cup failure. Photo: Getty Images
''But when you look at the record of Robbie's assistant coaches, there's quite a lot of turnover and fallout. Robbie's intransigence and reluctance to delegate might have been a factor.''
By contrast Henry's ability to present his team to the NZRU board made his decision a simple one, McCaw wrote. ''The applications in front of the NZRU are telling. Robbie hasn't named his assistants, though [then Auckland coach] Pat Lam has been mentioned in some reports. But Pat hasn't coached at Super 14 level yet. So the question actually is: Graham Henry, Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen, or Robbie Deans and unknown assistant coaches? That's a critical difference right there.
''So when [NZRU chairman] Steve Tew phones me for an informal catch-up on this and that, I tell him I'm happy to work with either, but I do have a view on which option might be better for the All Blacks.''
McCaw's process of evaluation is an indication to how conflicted he felt between Deans and Henry, and also speculates that Deans' failure to present an assistant team might also have reflected a belief that both coaches held - that the other had the job sewn up.
''When I see that Robbie hasn't really nailed anyone down to back him, I wonder whether Robbie's gone into the process believing that he hasn't really got a fair shot and is just going through the motions,'' McCaw wrote.
McCaw also reveals other insights about the Wallabies coach, including his difficulty in telling players why they were dropped and the unhappiness it caused at the Crusaders during the 2004 season.
''So, before I took on the captaincy in 2005, [former Crusaders and All Blacks captain] Reuben Thorne and I asked for a sit-down with Robbie. We discussed the situation, told him that some players were unhappy and why,'' McCaw wrote.
''It turned into a very human moment, when Robbie opened up and said that telling players they weren't selected was part of the job he found most difficult. Once the problem was identified, he addressed it in a professional way and improved that aspect of his communication with the players.''
In his book, McCaw also revealed that his foot injury at last year's Rugby World Cup was so bad that he came close to limping out of their semi-final win over Australia.
The 31-year-old, who became the first player to chalk up 100 Test wins after beating the Springboks 32-16 at the weekend, says he battled intense pain in the semi-final.
''During the warm-up I didn't feel it too much, but five minutes into the game I felt it again. Something letting go. A clunk or pop or crack. The pain came back.
''It was sore all the way through the semi, but only really sore when the whistle went. One of the most challenging bits was running up the tunnel at half time. Getting on and off the field was complete agony,'' McCaw says.
McCaw says he had told the team doctor, Deb Robinson, he would play as long as he could but if the pain got too great and it was affecting his decision-making he would quit.
He refused to have the foot X-rayed because he knew the extent of the injury and relied on painkillers to get him through.