TOKYO, 8 Oct - When he materialised among the flames at the opening ceremony and lifted the Webb Ellis Cup to the night skies in Tokyo Stadium, it almost felt like the great Richie McCaw had some unfinished business with the Rugby World Cup.

So it has transpired. New Zealand have made an ominous start to their title defence but coach Steve Hansen said they were guilty of "not turning up with the right attitude" for their Pool B game against Namibia on Sunday before eventually winning 71-9.

If they want to make it three World Cup titles in a row, they will need to find the consistent excellence achieved by the man who led them to the previous two.

"These guys are pretty good in getting themselves ready but one of the hardest things to do in sport, I believe, is to get yourself in a mental state that you can perform to the highest level all the time," said Hansen ahead of Saturday's final pool clash against Italy.

"It's like climbing Mount Everest every time you play, and I’ve only met and been associated with one player who I thought could do it week in week out regardless of who we were playing - and that was Richie McCaw.

"He never really had an off-day or a bad game. But in the end, it was probably one of the reasons he retired because it takes a lot of emotional and mental effort."

Hansen concedes it is "sometimes excusable" for mere mortals' standards to drop against supposedly lesser opposition. "It's like cleaning the windows," he said. "You think you're doing a good job but we miss the bits in the corner."

That does not stop from New Zealand's class of 2019 reaching for McCaw-esque heights. 

"Richie is a legendary All Black," said fellow flanker Matt Todd, who played alongside the former captain in one test, and is appearing at his first World Cup. "He set the standard for preparation and being able to push yourself to the point you need to to get the job done, so I guess everyone's striving to be like that.

"Every game you want to put your body on the line and front up week in week out, it's crucial. So as individuals we're always trying to get ourselves to that level where you can do the job that the team requires you to do." 

It is the job McCaw did better than anyone.

The Real McCaw - the statistics that explain why Richie was without parallel

148 tests (141 starts, 7 as replacement) from 2001 to 2015 (27 tries)
(won 131, lost 15, drawn 2 - win percentage 89.18%)

22 World Cup matches (18 starts, 4 as replacement) in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015 (3 tries)
(Won 20, lost 2 - win percentage 90.90%)

Record as captain: 110 starts, 97 won, 11 lost, 2 drawn (21 tries) (win percentage 89.09%)

Record as World Cup captain: 13 starts, 13 wins (3 tries) (win percentage 100%)

Trophies won
World Cup (2011, 2015)
Tri-Nations and Rugby Championship (2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014)
Super Rugby (with Crusaders) (2002, 2005, 2006, 2008)
World Player of the Year (2009, 2010)
New Zealand Player of the Year (2003, 2006, 2009, 2012)

RNS ic/lm/bo