Saturday, November 29, 2008

Richie McCaw combines substance with style

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/rugby_union/article5248244.ece
The Times
November 28, 2008
Mark Souster


It is difficult to know quite where to start with Richie McCaw. If a writer had invented him as a character in a novel, he might be dismissed as too good to be true. Yet that is exactly what McCaw is.

Women love him and lust after him - Richie McPhwoar is one sobriquet - while men respect, admire and wish they could be him. He is the best open-side flanker of his era, a national icon in New Zealand where No 7s are revered as fly halves are in Wales.

In the rugby-playing world, only Dan Carter holds similar status among All Blacks. He has a gorgeous girlfriend, Hayley Holt, the dancer who was Mark Foster's partner on Strictly Come Dancing, and an income that in New Zealand terms is huge, but which could be doubled or trebled in Europe should he choose to move . He will not.

Even though he has a sabbatical clause in his contract, if he exercises it, it will be to get away from rugby not to play more, as Carter has chosen to do with Perpignan. As his country's captain, he is a marketing man's dream: smart, clean-cut and good-looking, with the odd rugby scar on his face.

Above all, he is well rounded, but also to his credit well grounded. The only occasion his feet leave “Planet Earth” is when he pilots his own glider, his passion for the skies nutured by his childhood contact with J.H. “Jim” McCaw, his grandfather who flew more than 300 missions in the Second World War.

If he were not a man of substance and real character, it would be easy for McCaw's head to turn. The accolades and awards have been heaped upon him during his illustrious career, which began at international level in 2001, although his failure to win, let alone be shortlisted in the IRB's player-of-the-year category last week, mystified Graham Henry, the All Blacks head coach.
His ability on the field and particularly at the breakdown has led to accusations that he cheats.

He laughs off such charges as he does the suggestion that there is “one law for McCaw”. “I don't listen to that stuff because it's been said so many times,” he said. “I don't know why it comes about. Good No7 s can be bloody annoying and if I'm doing that, then I'm not doing a bad job.”

Since the ignominy of the World Cup, when they lost to France in the quarter-finals, which he admits was not his finest hour as captain, New Zealand have regrouped around their talisman, won the Tri-Nations, retained the Bledisloe Cup and are poised to secure a grand slam at Twickenham tomorrow.
There could be no better riposte. Of the 14 internationals the All Blacks have played this year, they have lost twice; perhaps it is only coincidence that on both occasions McCaw was missing. Then again, perhaps not. He has not lost in any competition this year; Canterbury won the Air New Zealand Cup and the Crusaders the Super 14, on top of New Zealand's Tri-Nations success.

McCaw, who has won 69 caps and led New Zealand 32 times, believes that such honours should be cherished and dismissed the view that only a World Cup matters. “You have to be able to gain lasting fulfilment without winning the World Cup,” he said yesterday when the Hillary Shield, for which the teams will play tomorrow, was unveiled in the presence of both captains and June Hillary, Sir Edmund's widow. “It's not easy when you have disappointments but hopefully we can put them into context,” he said. “We can be proud of what we've accomplished this year. It would be awful to have finished your career having achieved some of the things we have, even up to now, and not feel like you've done good.”

Insert his name into the Google search engine and almost 200,000 items are listed. There are tributes to him on YouTube and websites debate just how good he is and whether Michael Jones and Josh Kronfeld were better in their heyday.

Bart Campbell, the chief executive of Essentially Group, which looks after McCaw's interests on and off the field, is effusive about his client. “He has everything,” Campbell said. “I am not sure he gets the level of respect on the international stage that he deserves. Maybe that's because forwards do not get the glory. There is no one to touch him as a player. He has committed to the All Blacks to 2011 and if they manage to win the World Cup, then perhaps after ten years' service to his country he will be recognised as one of the great warriors of the game in the same category as Martin Johnson.”

How ironic if McCaw were to rub further salt into the wounds of England's fledgeling manager tomorrow.

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