Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sublime McCaw undone only by IRB this year
By JIM KAYES in Cardiff, Fairfax Media
Sunday, 23 November 2008

It has to be the question of the year. Why was Richie McCaw not nominated for the IRB's player of the year?

McCaw led the All Blacks for the 11th time this year and they won again on Sunday, this time a 29-9 victory against Wales at the Millennium Stadium. It continues a perfect run for the skipper as the All Blacks' two defeats came while he was out with an ankle injury.

That statistic and Sunday's test exemplify McCaw's qualities as a player and how he has developed as a leader. When the going gets tough – as it was against a spirited Wales – McCaw comes to the fore.

Without doing anything particularly special, McCaw was impressive on Sunday, picking up the man-of-the-match award. He was strong on defence, effective in short bursts with the ball and, as ever, a menace at the breakdown.

It is the same every time he plays. He never seems to have a bad game. And this year he has collected titles along with the way. As ever, there was the Super 14 trophy, then the Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup, and he spared some time to help Canterbury win the Air New Zealand Cup.

Now McCaw is a game away from leading the All Blacks to only their third Grand Slam. By most people's measure he has had another impressive year, yet not by the standards of the former internationals who apparently spent 47 hours watching 35 games to come up with a list of five finalists for Sunday night's awards dinner in London.

You have to wonder how they missed him. Daniel Carter, who won the title in 2005 and had a rather average game on Sunday but still contributed a valuable 19 points, will be at the swanky affair.

Shane Williams, the Welsh wing whose diminutive stature is in contrast to the massive contribution he made to Wales' Six Nations triumph, will be there too. The other finalists are Wales skipper captain Ryan Jones, Italian skipper Sergio Parisse and Scotland halfback Mike Blair.

They were picked by former internationals Tana Umaga, Raphaël Ibanez, Will Greenwood, Francois Pienaar, Agustin Pichot, Gavin Hastings, Scott Quinnell, Paul Wallace and convenor John Eales. The five were picked before the November tests and the winner will be selected from this month's games.

Carter and Williams are the favourites though neither gave their hopes much of a boost on Sunday. Carter kicked two penalties in the first half and had another bounce off the posts. Without standing out, he was tidy, kicking reasonably well and making the odd dab.

He was, by his standards, very subdued in the second half and lost the ball forward late in the match when the try was definitely on. Jones was Wales' main source of lineout ball and sound on defence while Williams had a couple of sparkling runs from the left wing in the first half, but did little in the second.

The trio were out shone by Jerome Kaino, Ma'a Nonu and Joe Rokocoko for the All Blacks, and fullback Lee Byrne, among several others, for Wales. And of course by McCaw, whose opposite on Sunday, Martyn Williams, said he was the best player in the world.

Strangely though, the judges didn't agree and McCaw won't have the chance on Monday to add to the title he collected two years ago.

Do you think it's a travesty that Richie McCaw isn't in the running to be IRB's player of the year? Post your comments below.

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