McCaw watching captaincy free Warburton

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    02 Feb 2017     Getty Images

Warburton stood aside from the leadership role in a bid to concentrate on his game in the face of emerging competition within Wales and from without for a place in the British and Irish Lions team to New Zealand this year.

McCaw told The Daily Telegraph, "The guy I am really looking forward to seeing is Sam Warburton and making the transition from being captain to just another player.

"You may see a completely different player without that pressure."

McCaw believes the Ireland v England game in the last round of the Six Nations shapes as a likely final, and trial for several possible Lions contenders.

"It will be really tough for the English if they get to that point with their record intact. There will be a lot of pressure on them and the Irish would love to knock them over," he said.

And he thinks three players who could push their Lions' claims during the Six Nations will be Ireland's flanker Sean O'Brien, Scotland lock Jonny Gray and English centre Owen Farrell.

McCaw said he never felt the gap between the southern and northern hemispheres was especially wide and that had been borne out during the November Tests. Ireland's win over New Zealand and Italy beating South Africa showed the gap was smaller than ever.

"You look at South Africa losing to Italy, Wales and England, the Aussies losing to England, New Zealand to Ireland. I actually thought there was very little between the teams before but that reinforced that," he said.

England were also not the cot case many claimed when they failed to advance to the play-offs from the pool of death. Had they beaten Wales in a crucial pool clash their World Cup may have been completely different.

"If they had won that then they would have been in the quarter-finals and I think they would have been a big force. The difference between going out in the pool rounds and being a force in the business end of the tournament is very thin," he said.

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