Thursday, July 16, 2009

Richie McCaw runs, tackles and wins
By TOBY ROBSON - The Dominion Post (Photo: John Selkirk / The Dominion Post)

He's just one player, but his return makes such a difference. Toby Robson lists seven reasons to enjoy the comeback of the All Blacks' No7.


It's there in the purposeful spring of his step as he heads to the team bus and it's there in his words and actions.

Early this week McCaw put his hand up and told the All Blacks coaches not to include a specialist openside on the bench because he planned to be there for 80 minutes.

Yesterday he seemed almost confused that anyone would think playing a Tri-Nations test after seven weeks on the sideline was an issue.

"I'm excited, to be honest. I guess worst case we have Rodney [So'oialo], who has played there before, but hopefully that won't happen. I'm confident it won't.

"I've done three or four weeks of training and a couple of hit-outs, which is more than I have in the past, so I know where I'm at.

"Although it's hard [on the lungs], the adrenaline when it comes to a test match, you just seem to be able to keep going."

Winning habit

For some people it's chewing their fingernails, for McCaw it's winning rugby matches.

He's played 70 tests and won 63 of them. His influence is evidenced by the fact that the only two losses since the 2007 World Cup, against Australia last year in Sydney and France this year in Dunedin, have come when McCaw was injured.

In his 33 appearances as captain McCaw has suffered only three test losses, all by narrow margins 21-20 to South Africa in 2006 at Rustenburg, 20-18 to France at the 2007 Rugby World Cup, and 20-15 to Australia the same year at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

He has never lost a test as captain on home soil and only once full stop, against England in 2003. Oh, and did we mention that he led Canterbury to the NPC title in 2004 and the Crusaders to three Super rugby titles, in 2005, '06 and '08?


It's like a vacuum has just sucked everything in the Heritage Hotel's massive meeting area on to one couch.

Interviews with other All Blacks are cut short as McCaw takes a seat for the media session.

Wherever he goes, so do the crowds, whether it's fans, school kids, other players or journalists everyone wants to be near the skipper.

Like his fighter pilot grandfather Jim, Richie is a born leader.


At the Aussie media conference it didn't take long for Berrick Barnes to mention McCaw.

In fact, it's in response to the first question: "Any team led by Richie McCaw mate, that's, well, you know what you are in for, that's for sure," Barnes said when asked if the Wallabies were more confident than when they lost at Eden Park last year.

Ad Feedback There's no doubt McCaw gets into the minds and under the skins of opponents.

Current Wallaby and former Crusaders coach Robbie Deans perhaps best summed up McCaw's effect this week when he said: "Last year we went to Auckland where Richie returned for that game, and the transformation of the All Black side that night from the one we played in Sydney was remarkable."


Even with his knee strapped, McCaw was outstripping Sitiveni Sivivatu and Andrew Hore during a recent fitness session. McCaw ended up an entire rugby field ahead and still looked as though he was taking a morning stroll.

Deans marvels at what his former student is capable of: "He's a bloke who has a huge edge. He just goes and goes and goes. It's remarkable what he can give."


How many people are comfortable having their face hastily stapled together in order to finish a game of rugby.

McCaw did it during the All Blacks' 21-20 loss to South Africa in Rustenburg in 2006.

"Pictures like that wouldn't suggest it, but it really is fun," McCaw once said of the photo.

McCaw estimates he's split each eyebrow 30 times and both cheekbones at least half-a-dozen times. Given the way he throws his body around with complete disregard, it's no surprise.

Few players are targeted as heavily either, with many teams simply trying, but usually failing, to take McCaw out of the game.


Like Michael Jones and Josh Kronfeld before him, McCaw has taken the openside position to a new level of expertise.

A master over the ball at the tackle, a ferocious defender, massively fit, and strong with ball in hand he rules the roost.

"You only get one crack at it," Deans said of McCaw's influence at the breakdown. "But what probably sets him apart is not just the quantity of involvements, but the quality.

"He actually makes a difference wherever he surfaces, and over time he's learnt to master those entry points.

"So rather than just throwing himself at everything, he's now been a little more selective and, as a consequence, possibly having a greater impact."

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