WELLINGTON // Denied his 100-cap coronation by a calf strain that ruled him out of New Zealand's match against Japan, the captain Richie McCaw will be primed to celebrate the milestone in style against Rugby World Cup nemesis France on Saturday.
Barring another unforeseen niggle, the soft-spoken 30 year old will become the first to play 100 Tests for the All Blacks when he runs out on Eden Park where home fans can be expected to pay glowing tribute to their revered rugby team's skipper.
McCaw is regarded in New Zealand as a man of "mana", a person of great leadership. The Maori term encapsulates notions of authority, influence, prestige and honour.
It is rarely bestowed on people lightly, and in rugby circles even less.
"He's a special player, a special man and inspirational to the country," All Blacks Henry said in Auckland today after naming his side to play France. "Not only inspirational to this rugby team but an inspiration to New Zealanders.
"He's a world class player. He's been the IRB Player of the Year on three occasions, which has never happened before. He's brave and he's highly intelligent and he's an inspiration to the players he plays with."
Not that the fuss-free flanker basks in the adulation. McCaw rarely appears comfortable when talked about and even less when talking about himself.
The man who grew up on a family farm in south Canterbury would prefer to do his talking on the field, said Henry.
"He's the most experienced captain this country has ever had. The one prior to that was Sean Fitzpatrick and he was the same and got better and better as he got older," he added.
"Richie like Sean is one our great captains and ... they are similar, they set standards, they lead by example, they don't talk too much. When they talk people listen."
Andy Ellis, the All Blacks scrum-half, played much of his rugby under McCaw for both Canterbury and the Super 15 rugby side the Crusaders.
"He's got real mana in the team," Ellis said ahead of the All Blacks' win over Japan. "When we get to training, he's always the first one out there, warming up, sprinting, doing lengths.
"It makes you want to get out there as well. It's just what he does — and he makes no excuses. That, to me, is the sign of a great leader."
McCaw will bid to join the exclusive club of captains that have led their sides to World Cup glory, including England's Martin Johnson (2003), South Africa's John Smit (2007) and John Eales of Australia (1999).
"It's a real honour for me to play the [100th] game with him," said fellow loose forward Adam Thomson. "[But] don't think for one minute that playing 100 games means as much for him as seeing this team succeed in this tournament.
"That's the sort of character he is."