'The black jersey is the most important thing to me'
By MARC HINTON, RugbyHeaven
Monday, 09 June 2008
Despite the difficulties of last year's World Cup and the inevitable fallout that followed, Richie McCaw says his enjoyment of rugby remains as high as it's ever been, persuading him to stay on in New Zealand through until at least the end of 2011.
The All Blacks skipper announced a two-year extension to his NZRU contract at a media conference in Auckland on Monday. It is significant on a number of fronts, not the least of which is that it keeps arguably the most influential player in the New Zealand game firmly on these shores at least until after the next World Cup which will also be held here.
And it has not taken a big-money "sabbatical" for New Zealand rugby to retain the brilliant openside flanker, hailed by his assistant coach Steve Hansen at the weekend as the best in All Black history.
McCaw confirmed at the announcement of his new deal that at this stage he had no intention of taking a "sabbatical" in the north, and that, if anything, he was more interested in a prolonged "break" from the game at some strategic point over the next World Cup cycle
NZRU boss Steve Tew hailed the re-signing as a significant achievement in a difficult climate of player retention, saying on several occasions that the re-commitment sent "very strong signals" to other players in the All Blacks squad who could have similar decision to make soon.
"For me it's all about the enjoyment I get out of playing here in New Zealand both for the Crusaders and All Blacks," said McCaw at his Monday announcement. It means he will likely get a tilt at his third World Cup in 2011. "When I really weighed it up it’s what makes me click and it's what I enjoy,'' added the 27-year-old loose forward.
McCaw, who said the black jersey was "the most important thing to me", added that team-mate Dan Carter’s decision to take the sabbatical as part of a new deal through to 2011 did not factor into his own re-commitment.
"It’s great he was thinking along the same lines. There's been a lot of talk about players leaving, and everyone’s different. You’ve got to make your own decision and hopefully as time goes on there will be a few more [players] in the same boat."
But McCaw confirmed that for him right now the "sabbatical", a la Carter's six-month deal with Toulon, was not something that motivated him. He said he was feeling "fresh" and felt his body was "handling the rugby OK".
But he added: "It's obviously there to discuss with the NZRU in case things change over the next couple of seasons. [But] I've got no intentions of thinking like that at the moment. It's probably more if perhaps I needed a rest rather than going away to play. That's there to talk about if needed but at this stage it's definitely not in my thinking at all."
McCaw said lucrative offers from rich northern clubs never really came into the equation.
"There’s more money available overseas, but personally, it wouldn’t bring the same challenge. When you talk about offers, it's not till you signal you’re keen to go you have those sort of things. In terms of people saying offers are coming in all the time, it’s not really like that. If you make the signal you’re keen to go offshore that’s when it probably happens."
But was he not just a little tempted by the big money that appears to be on offer?
"You always think about everything that's out there. [But] it was never serious. There's got to be a reason for that, and the reason would be you aren't enjoying what you're doing. For me I've always enjoyed it, and so far this year I've had a lot of fun playing for the Crusaders, and obviously getting back in here. As long as that continues, and I'm sure it will, I'm happy doing what I'm doing."
The now 60-test veteran said it had felt like the right time to put his commitment to New Zealand rugby on paper. Even after he'd been fingered as a significant part of the leadership problems for the All Blacks in the much-maligned World Cup review.
"Last year it was hard to think too much further ahead, but I’ve had some time this year and was pretty keen to make that commitment. I’m pretty excited about it," he added.
NZRU chief executive Tew expressed delight at the agreement reached.
"Richie’s commitment to New Zealand rugby is hugely significant for everyone involved in rugby in New Zealand. It shows how much the jersey means and that we can keep world-class players in New Zealand. Richie is recognised as the best openside flanker in the world and his extension is a positive sign that we can create the right environment in New Zealand rugby for players of his calibre."