Sunday, March 18, 2007

High-flying McCaw ready for World Cup

The Press
Saturday, 17 March 2007

Near a glidding spot for TVNZ.
January 2006.

Next weekend Richie McCaw begins his World Cup rugby year when he plays his first match for the Crusaders. Richard Knowler talks to the openside flanker about the road leading to the World Cup final in France and life outside the New Zealand rugby bubble.

Anyone with an interest in aviation who visits London's Imperial War Museum cannot help but be captivated by a V1 flying bomb on show.

A forerunner of the modern cruise missile, the V1 was a small, jet powered pilot-less plane that flew at 560kmh across the English Channel to deliver a one-tonne warhead on London during World War 2.

About 2900 V1 and V2 flying bombs were fired on London by the Nazis between June 1944 and March 1945, killing 8938 people and seriously injuring 25,000 others.

For All Blacks captain Richie McCaw there was every incentive to visit the museum when he toured London during last year's All Blacks tour. His grandfather, Flight Commander James McCaw, shot down 20 V1s while flying a Hawker Tempest for 486 (New Zealand) Squadron.

"Yes, it was amazing the technology they had back then, isn't it?," McCaw, himself a keen fixed-wing and glider pilot, says.

For Jack McCaw, who returned to New Zealand and farmed in Kurow after the war, the fear and pressure must have immense.

Later this year, his grandson will feel a different type of tension when he leads the All Blacks to the Rugby World Cup in France, Wales and Scotland.

It will be nothing like the horror of going to war but few New Zealand rugby players will experience such scrutiny.

The expectation on the All Blacks to succeed is building and McCaw hopes to lift the Webb Ellis Cup following the October 21 final in Paris.

Despite none of the top players having represented their Super 14 teams yet, let alone performing in a test match, the All Blacks are already hot favourites to break their 20-year World Cup drought.

As the countdown continues, much focus will be directed towards openside flanker and skipper McCaw. He acknowledges the pressure but believes painful lessons have been absorbed from the 2003 World Cup.

"Leading into that World Cup, after what all the people were saying and the media was writing – we let it influence us. It almost like we were playing and just doing it to keep people quiet," he reflects.

"And that's not quite the right way to go about it because you never win. The team, and personally myself, we have got to the point where we judge what we do on our own standards."

When the 30-man squad prepares for its opening pool match against Italy on September 8, McCaw does not want it harbouring negative thoughts about letting down the New Zealand public. "Instead of thinking `Hell, what if we don't win' and this and that, why don't we look at the other way? You know, how good would it be if we won and it's exciting to be able to go to a World Cup – not, `Oh no the World Cup is coming up.'

"That's the way I try to think about things. I don't think it's taken the heat off me but you just don't go on such a rollercoaster ride."

For McCaw, 26, being a World Cup-winning captain would have its upsides financially and emotionally.

The image of the triumphant skipper will immediately be scattered around the rugby world and beyond. Doors in the business, commercial and sponsorship worlds will be flung open.

He will also have to expect more public recognition outside New Zealand. "I've never really thought about it like that to be honest," he says. "You have got to realise that whatever happens at the World Cup may influence things a little bit but it won't be over the top, I wouldn't have thought."

Already there are few places McCaw can go in New Zealand without being recognised but he accepts that is part of the territory. He also appreciates life as a Kiwi high-profile sports star is far easier than in Europe.

"There are some places you go and others that you stay away from," McCaw says. "But if you compare it to where football placed in the UK or whatever, well-known football players can't live normal lives whereas we are pretty lucky here. There is a bit extra that goes with it but you can still be a normal person."

Following a promotional photo shoot for being the first ambassador of the Meridian Energy Canterbury Rugby Academy , McCaw lounges on a park bench on Oxford Terrace and in 30 minutes of talking to The Press without being interrupted or turning any heads.

"We can sit in here in Christchurch with no worries at all. David Beckham and co couldn't do that – not that I am comparing myself to him or anything like that – but you know what I mean."
One of McCaw's earliest rugby memories was watching the All Blacks win the World Cup final in 1987 but he says he did not understand the significance of the tournament until they lost to the Wallabies in Dublin four years later.

As a teenager at Otago Boys' High School, he rose in the early hours from his dormitory bed to watch the 1995 final and sat in disbelief as the Springboks beat the All Blacks in extra time in the final in Johannesburg.

"The '95 one sticks out because most people believed the All Blacks were the best team at the tournament and the guys were crook. Whether that would have made a difference or not, I don't know.

"I think everyone was in shock. I got up and watched all the other games and thought `Hell, they are going to carry on'. And then they didn't. It was like they can't lose surely? But they did."

With Aaron Mauger and Byron Kelleher already announcing they are off to overseas clubs post-World Cup and Chris Jack also in negotiations with London club Saracens, the obvious question is if McCaw will join the exodus when his contract finishes at the end of the year.

The noises he makes are positive for the New Zealand Rugby Union. He says he is still enjoying his rugby but will not keep signing contracts when his body says it has had enough.
"At the moment I am not looking at going elsewhere but you have to look at all avenues."

If the All Blacks won the World Cup, the hope would be that McCaw will stay in New Zealand for at least two more years to help the new coach maintain the dominance.

McCaw was a deputy dux at OBHS and had almost completed a commerce degree at Lincoln University before rugby commitments took over. McCaw's former teachers and coaches are quick to note his intelligence. Returning to study is something he thinks about, he says, but rugby remains the priority.

Financially, McCaw should be well set up by the time he retires.

All Black captains are estimated to rake in $400,000 to $500,000 a year, so he will not feel the need to rush any decisions about his rugby after-life.

Just what he will do, though, even he does not know.

"It's something I have thought about a lot, at times. Because I think, `Hell, what will I do?' It's all very well to put plans into place now but they keep changing, if you know what I mean."

Away from rugby, McCaw tries to mix with people from outside those circles and says that is why he likes to go gliding down near Omarama or take mates for a whirl in a fixed-wing plane.
Being All Blacks captain means there is potential to mix with successful business people and he enjoys the chance to turn the tables.

"Flying is a huge part of getting away and doing something else because people are so passionate about that and are not too worried about rugby."

Next week McCaw will play his first Super 14 match, representing the Crusaders against the Stormers at Jade Stadium. With the conditioning programme over, he says he feels amped to play.

The return will also mean some lifestyle changes after not having to sacrifice every weekend for the last 3 and a half months.

While he had to train during the week, McCaw revelled in the rare privilege of being able to go away for weekends, whether it was fishing near Great Barrier Island or jumping into his glider near Omarama.

Flying is in his blood and he says the lure of gliding is because it is a "real sport".

"With the gliding you can actually have a thrill on your own and fly around the mountains.
"You get away over the Makarora (river) and Mount Cook and home."

pas de traduction non plus, dsl

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