By DUNCAN JOHNSTONE, RugbyHeaven
Tuesday, 09 December 2008
Lost in the rich praise that has deservedly been dished out to Richie McCaw recently has been his herculean feat of appearing in nine games of top-class rugby in seven and a half weeks.
The All Blacks skipper has been a talking point because he was inexplicably overlooked for the IRB's international player of the year and somehow missed out on winning the New Zealand player of the year title. Not that you'll hear a peep out of the great man himself - that's not his style.
McCaw has always been of those who let their actions speak louder than their words.
And there has been no shortage of action from him over the past couple of months. Ali Williams created something of a modern-day milestone by starting all 15 tests for the All Blacks this year.
That's a remarkable achievement. But it should be noted that Williams did get a decent break between the end of the Tri-Nations and the Hong Kong extravaganza against the Wallabies - seven long weeks in fact. During that time McCaw got on off the bench for Canterbury in their Air New Zealand Cup quarter-final and then played full matches in both the semifinal and the final, helping the red and blacks to the national title.
He then hopped on a plane to resume the leadership of the All Blacks for a physically draining itinerary. I asked McCaw early in the tour if it would be possible for him to play in all five tests on consecutive weekends. He drew a deep breath and said he felt it could be done. It would be tough but it could be done.
And, apart from sitting out the first half of the opening Grand Slam assignment against Scotland, McCaw did just that. He then topped it off by appearing for the British Barbarians against Australia, just four days after achieving that Grand Slam glory against England at Twickenham.
Nestled between those two matches was another important date in London as he became a central figure in the pool announcements for the 2011 World Cup to be staged in New Zealand.
McCaw carried that off with his usual aplomb although he couldn't quite taste victory with the Baabaas. But in a season where the All Blacks have sensibly returned to consistency with their selections and seen that reflected in their improved performances, McCaw has been something of a miracle man.
If he hadn't injured an ankle in the home series against England back in June, there's every chance he would have played in every test as well. Don't forget he's doing it in the most demanding position of all. The No 7 jersey carries many responsibilities, none more than ball security at the breakdowns and the collision areas.
Every step of the tour McCaw was recognised by his opponents as the most influential figure they were confronting and there was even the customary suggestion that he operated outside the boundaries of the law. It will be interesting to see what course the selectors chart with the All Blacks next year.
They have started to develop a bit more depth after the massive exodus that came at the end of 2008. There will be temptations to revert to some sort of rotation in key areas.
But don't expect McCaw to be handing over his jersey cheaply. He's just put in an iron-man performance over the last couple of months that proves sustained performance is possible.