Steve Hansen lauds Richie McCaw as New Zealand reach World Cup Final
Steve Hansen hailed "the greatest skipper" Richie McCaw for exorcising the ghosts of 2007 in driving New Zealand to a second consecutive World Cup final.
All Blacks boss Hansen cited McCaw's calm leadership as the decisive factor in closing out 20-18 semi-final victory over South Africa in Twickenham's driving rain.
Hansen revealed McCaw was "hurt" by heavy criticism after New Zealand's 20-18 defeat to France in the 2007 quarter-finals in Cardiff, where the All Blacks spurned a hatful of late drop-goal chances.
Jerome Kaino and Beauden Barrett claimed tries with Dan Carter booting 10 points - including a drop-goal - as the All Blacks prevailed in horrid weather, leaving Hansen laying great praise at his captain's door.
"We've probably got the greatest skipper and greatest player the All Blacks and maybe the world has had, without getting ahead of ourselves," said Hansen of McCaw, who lifted the World Cup in 2011.
"As a young captain in 2007 he was criticised a lot.
"And I know that hurt him.
"But he's grown, we've grown a leadership group that has a massive amount of self-belief.
"Kieran Read, Conrad Smith, Dan Carter, Sam Cane; there's a number of guys.
"We've had moments where we had to keep that self-belief.
"And I can think of one against Ireland (the last-gasp 24-22 victory in November 2013).
"Then in those moments it's just about the process.
"What have we got to do right now? What do we do next?
"And it becomes the norm.
"You've got four or five guys who have played around 100 games.
"You've got guys on the park who can do that for you.
"It's a learned skill like anything, and self-belief is a massive thing."
McCaw toasted his record 13th World Cup match as captain by driving the tenacious All Blacks to their second-straight tournament final.
New Zealand edged out France 8-7 in Auckland in 2011, and now have the right to defend their title.
The All Blacks would make history by retaining the Webb Ellis Cup, with Hansen quickly admitting his side must cut down their penalty count.
"Yeah it is worrying," said Hansen of New Zealand handing South Africa scoring chances from the tee.
"It makes it harder to overcome it.
"If we can sort that out it makes it harder for the opposition.
"So that's something we've got to sort out."
All Blacks assistant boss Ian Foster paid tribute to fly-half Carter for controlling New Zealand's increasingly-shrewd approach during a measured second half.
South Africa led 12-7 at the break, Carter missing a regulation penalty and producing a cheap knock-on.
The 33-year-old - who missed the 2011 final through injury - recovered his poise however, later producing the crucial turnover that led to Barrett's winning try.
Foster shied away from branding Carter's World Cup form his best yet, but praised the wily playmaker for hitting back aftera string of injuries.
"He's in the form that we need him to be in right now," said Foster.
"Over a career it's hard to say he's in his best form.
"But for someone who's gone through what he has to control the team in the way he does, it's outstanding.
"He's reaping the rewards of really hard work.
"To see him out there running around freely, it's outstanding."
New Zealand boss Hansen allayed injury fears over wing Nehe Milner-Skudder, before taking a swipe at Northern Hemisphere rugby.
"The Rugby Championship has been given a few smacks up this way recently, but we've shown tonight that it's a very physical competition," said Hansen.
"And that if you haven't got physicality you can't play."