AUCKLAND // After four long years, Richie McCaw is counting down the hours before he can start trying to fully atone for New Zealand's poor finish to the last World Cup.
The All Blacks captain and coaching staff have answered more questions than they would care to remember regarding New Zealand's failures at every World Cup since they won the inaugural tournament in 1987.
With the World Cup back on home soil for the first time since then, McCaw is desperate to end the drought.
New Zealand's host cities and towns have been scrubbed and polished. There are flags for the 20 competing countries hanging all over the place, and the sense of anticipation is tangible.
The All Blacks open against Tonga on Friday at a revamped Eden Park stadium in what looms as a bruising, highly intense clash.
"It's a stage where everyone is at their peak and if you want success you've got to be," McCaw told a news conference on Thureday. "That's what motivates me - to test yourself in the toughest environment and, when you do that and succeed, that's when you can be satisfied. A World Cup is the biggest stage and you want to prove yourself on that."
McCaw and Daniel Carter, the star fly-half, were replaced during the 2007 quarter-final in Cardiff before France staged a magnificent comeback to send the New Zealanders to their earliest exit ever in the tournament. That came after the All Blacks had walloped the French in a warm-up match.
"You'd be a mug if you hadn't learnt in the four years since then," McCaw said.
The lead-up has been different this time. The top-ranked New Zealanders lost away Tests to South Africa, the previous World Cup champions, and Australia to surrender the Tri Nations title and come into the tournament on the back of consecutive losses for the first time.
"History has shown that what has happened previously - good or bad - means nothing come kick-off," McCaw said. "There'll be no complacency this time."
That is important for the All Blacks, as the Tongans are not likely to be ruffled by reputations. Ever since arriving on Monday, Finau Maka, the captain, and his squad have been shadowed by thousands of resident Tongans.
The welcoming committee was so large that Auckland airport became gridlocked for hours by cars and their red-and-white flags.
They are treating it like a neighbourhood game.
"There's no pressure on us, the pressure is on them," said Maka, who passed a fitness test yesterday and is certain to take his place in the back row against New Zealand. "We're just going to go out there and give it to them and see if they can handle it.
"We just don't want to turn up and make up the numbers. We want to go out there and show the world that Tonga does exist."
The Tongans won the right to start their war dance, the Sipi Tau, first. Organisers have said it is up to the All Blacks to decide when they respond.
If it is anything like the encounters in 2003 and 1999, it is likely to be instantaneous.
Organisers have planned a fireworks extravaganza across this harbour city and celebrations throughout the rugby-mad country of 4.5 million for the official opening for the tournament, which features 48 matches over six weeks - including eight in the first three days.
All the heavyweight teams are in action on the first weekend, with the most anticipated clash between England, the 2007 finalists, and Argentina, the third-place finishers, at Dunedin tomorrow - under the covered roof of a brand new stadium that has replaced the city's famous "House of Pain".