Richie McCaw’s longevity, leadership and consistency have made him the greatest player of the modern era, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
With his tendency to tread the fine line between skullduggery and legality at the breakdown, McCaw is the man many opposing rugby fans have often loved to hate over the years. Yet numbers don’t lie. McCaw has bowed out of the game as the most decorated player ever, boasting a record that may never be surpassed.
He is the most-capped international player with 148 Test appearances, and a winning percentage of 89%. He has won two World Cups, three Rugby Championship trophies, four Tri-Nations titles and 10 Bledisloe Cups. He is the most-capped captain in world rugby (110), and has celebrated the most Test wins as skipper (97). He was named World Player of the Year three times and received the New Zealand Player of the Year accolade on four occasions.
The list of achievements goes on and on … and on.
Detractors have suggested that McCaw’s success has largely been based on the fact he has formed part of one of the greatest generations of All Blacks teams. Yet, it’s surely the All Blacks’ success that has been just as inspired by the presence and peerless ability of McCaw.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said he couldn’t recall McCaw ever having a bad game during his tenure, and indeed, it’s been his ability to perform at the highest level for well over a decade that has made him the most revered and often feared player of his generation.
McCaw has only experienced 15 Test defeats during his All Blacks career, and has only been on the losing end against four nations: Australia, England, France and South Africa.
It’s an impossible task to try and rate or rank players from different generations, but there have been none quite so influential for such a long period of time.
Despite the physical demands of his position, and even at the age of 34, the wily openside flanker has found a way to make an impact and remain relevant in an ever-changing rugby environment.
Overcoming the disappointment of the All Blacks’ failed 2007 World Cup campaign to lead the Kiwis to redemptive glory in 2011, while nursing a broken bone in his foot, was the stuff of legend.
And, despite some questions in certain rugby circles over his form and enduring ability to still compete with the best in the buildup to this year’s World Cup, McCaw once again came up trumps, leading the All Blacks to a historic third world title.
McCaw delayed the announcement of his retirement to ensure he didn’t distract the All Blacks from their World Cup endeavours, or detract from their post-tournament celebrations.
However, the All Blacks stalwart was equally determined to ensure he didn’t conclude his career by ‘limping across the line’, and in the end he bowed out on his terms.
And yet when McCaw opted to announce his retirement on 19 November, there was something poignantly fitting about the timing. Just a day after legendary All Blacks wing Jonah Lomu had passed away, McCaw confirmed he would be hanging up his boots.
The retiring All Blacks skipper began his press conference in Wellington with a minute's silence for Lomu, and paid tribute to a player who he had hero-worshipped as a young boy.
New Zealand, still mourning the passing of arguably their greatest rugby icon, found themselves united once again in paying tribute to undoubtedly their greatest ever player.
Like Lomu, McCaw has left a lasting legacy that has redefined the game as we know it. In the words of Hansen, it is a ‘legacy that will be talked about by many people long after we're all gone’.
Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images