ALL Blacks captain Richie McCaw has a deep-seated desire to make amends for last year's early Rugby World Cup exit - starting in Saturday night's trial against Western Force in Melbourne.
McCaw, who will lead an almost full-strength Canterbury Crusaders squad at Olympic Park, yesterday told how the New Zealand internationals in the Super 14 club were intent on exorcising their World Cup demons.
The All Blacks were humbled by France in their quarter-final to make 2007 a year to forget for McCaw.
The Crusaders had crashed out in the semi-finals of last year's Super 14 competition months earlier.
That failure followed a season disrupted by the All Blacks' pre-World Cup conditioning program that had six frontline players sidelined as a precautionary measure for half of the season.
McCaw said the Crusaders' contingent of internationals had regrouped and were planning a big Super 14 charge.
"It hurt for a little while but you can't dwell on it," the towering flanker said. "The boys that were there and are in this group can't wait to get back out on the field. We had to tell ourselves that it's not the be-all and end-all. There is another competition to focus on now."
Crusaders coach Robbie Deans, the incoming Wallabies coach, is expected to use a 26-man squad at Olympic Park for a trial that will be played over four quarters.
Force coach John Mitchell will name his squad today.
Both teams arrive in Melbourne tomorrow.
McCaw, who has a pilot's licence and has recently turned to gliding, said the availability of all their players was an enormous boost for the Crusaders.
"It was fairly tough coming back halfway through the season," he said. "We're all at the same level now. It helps not having to play catch-up the week before your first game. We let ourselves down (last year). That trip to Africa (for the semi-final against the Northern Bulls) was bloody tough but we didn't deserve to go further."
The Super 14 competition, which features teams from Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, kicks off on February 15.
The trial between the Crusaders and the Force will be the first top-flight rugby game played in Melbourne since the Australian Rugby Union disbanded the second-tier Australian Rugby Championship, sending the Melbourne Rebels to the scrapheap.
The Wallabies play an international against Ireland at Telstra Dome on June 14.