By MARC HINTON in Marseille - Rugbyheaven
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said he was "humbled" to be named the best rugby player on the planet for the second time in his career.
The 28-year-old New Zealand openside picked up the IRB's prestigious Player of the Year award straight after leading his side to a comprehensive 39-12 victory over France at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille today.
He joined Ireland's Declan Kidney (coach of the year) and the Springboks (team of the year) in picking up the three major senior awards announced by the IRB on the final weekend of the official autumn season in the north.
McCaw also won the player of the year gong in 2006 and is now the first player ever to have picked it up a second time.
The prize was just reward for another fabulous year by the incomparable flanker who earned his 80th test cap against the French and marked the occasion with a highly influential display that later had the French flummoxed over why they'd been so outplayed at the breakdown.
But McCaw – one of the game's most respected figures and a genuinely decent bloke – took his latest accolade in the same sort of stride he's taken most of the plaudits through his remarkable career.
"It's a huge honour," he said. "If you think about all the great players around the world, to be singled out is pretty humbling.
"In a team sport it's hard to pick one guy out. You can't pick up awards like that if you haven't got a team that's pretty special. We've had a challenging year but everyone in the latter half of the year has stood up. I'm just proud to be a part of that.
"You've got to always remember that it's your mates alongside who probably deserve some credit as well. It's a pretty proud thing that I'll look back on having achieved. It's pretty cool."
Graham Henry called it a "special achievement" and said McCaw had been "outstanding" as he was just one of many All Blacks to lift their game to a high level in a defining test against the French.
McCaw's long-time team-mate Mils Muliaina said the latest accolade for a player fast approaching folklore status in New Zealand rugby was thoroughly deserved.
"There's no doubting how good a player Richie is," said Muliaina who is two ahead of his skipper in their tight race to become the most capped All Black of all time. "He's world-class, and it's probably between him and Dan for the best in the world. It's great for them to recognise Richie in that stature. The guys are just delighted because he's a great leader and a great rugby player."
One who was also set to be shouting a few for his mates in Marseille as a pretty important achievement is celebrated in time-honoured fashion.
"I hope so," said Muliaina. "His pockets are pretty deep so we'll see what happens."
Muliaina confirmed he would be keeping his historic white jersey – the first time the All Blacks have played in that in a test against France.
"I didn't want to give that away," he said. "Just with it being white and the milestone achievement tonight, it's going to be a pretty special one. It'll go up somewhere in the house if my wife will let me hang it up.
"It felt a bit different but any jersey with the All Blacks on it is special."
Meanwhile Muliaina revealed that All Black legend Jonah Lomu, now plying his trade with the Marseille-Vitrolles club, had played a key role in rousing him to put in one of his highest quality test performances.
"We had the big man come in on Thursday. That was awesome to see a guy like that talk to us about where he's at," said Muliaina. "We were really inspired about all the things he said.
"He spoke a lot about still wanting to be in the black jersey, and that his dream is still to be in the black jersey. Certainly for an older guy like me, that just inspires you to want to play your best.
"He lost that through sickness. You just never know what's around the corner, and that in itself is inspiring."
Whatever it was, it worked for the All Blacks. They were both inspired and inspiring as they finally unleashed the full package – another cast-iron defensive display allied with a quality attacking one. Jonah would have been proud.