LONDON, March 24- New Zealand captain Richie McCaw believes northern hemisphere sides may yet prove to be formidable opponents at the World Cup despite a Six Nations tournament that was low on quality.
The All Blacks skipper said southern hemisphere teams would underestimate the European challenge at their peril, citing the strong record of northern sides in recent World Cups.
McCaw was part of the New Zealand team stunned by France in the quarter-finals of the 2007 tournament, where England also confounded expectations by reaching the final after beating Australia in the last eight.
That record — and the fact that New Zealand have not won the World Cup since the inaugural event in 1987 — means there will be no chance of complacency amongst the All Blacks when the tournament kicks off in September.
"If you look at what happened before the last World Cup and then what happened at the wash-up, then yes I expect the northern hemisphere teams will be challenging," said McCaw, speaking in London ahead of the Crusaders Super 15 match against the Sharks at Twickenham on Sunday.
"England tripped up against Ireland but they certainly showed they know how to win games.
"If you look at the personnel the French have and even the Welsh, they have some good players too, they can all be threats.
"Things will change between now and then, there’s lots of time for that in the build-up. Teams will go up a level.
"We won’t take anyone for granted, we’ve learnt those lessons I can tell you."
McCaw also believes England may emerge stronger following their bitterly disappointing finale to the Six Nations on Saturday, when they were routed 24-8 by Ireland in Dublin.
"I know there’s been criticism of England for doing okay while not getting things right each time," he said.
"As long as you’re winning and learning your lessons I’m sure they will be better for those experiences.
"I’m sure that later on in the year they’ll take all the positives out of that. They lost the last game and sometimes they’re the lessons that hurt the most."
McCaw said New Zealand themselves had absorbed the lessons of repeated failures at the World Cup, something which has given them the unwanted tag of serial "chokers".
"There’s a few of us in the team who have been through those experiences and you hope those experiences will hurt," he said.
"You can’t hide from it, it’s there and we have to deal with it.
"The World Cup should be tough to win. That’s why people appreciate it.
"I don’t think there’s a mental block with the All Blacks. You know what you need to do, it’s just a matter of doing it.
"All teams will feel the pressure. You have to be excited about it, which is a subtle difference in the way you view it."