By TOBY ROBSON - The Press
Sept 11th, 2010
Richie McCaw has come a long way. From a shy Canterbury openside to the most capped All Blacks test captain in history, McCaw will stride onto Sydney's ANZ Stadium tonight holding far more than another statistical milestone.
McCaw, 29, will lead the All Blacks test side for the 52nd time, surpassing Sean Fitzpatrick's mark.
He has lost just four tests as skipper and only 10 times as a player during his 88 appearances in the black jersey. He topped Fitzpatricks' record mark of 74 wins in Wellington last month and has just clicked over to 78.
But it is an immeasurable commodity that McCaw now possesses that is separating him from the pack.
Like a politician in their prime, the Cantabarian has universal approval in the polls.
He is the baby-kissing, sponsor-pleasing, try-in-the-corner scoring, plane flying, Kiwi bloke with the boy-next-door smile. He is the guy who went to Raurimu Ave School in Northland and hid in a shower curtain to make a class of kids smile.
To top it off, most weeks McCaw is the best player on the park, described by Graham Henry this week as "the most influential player in the world right now".
He is the promise of World Cup glory, the ultimate all-rounder.
Former All Blacks captain Wayne "Buck" Shelford says it is something of a perfect storm with McCaw the best flanker of his generation, and possibly now in the best team.
"He was given the leadership as a young man, what was it 23? They saw the potential and they gave it to him early and now it's all paying off," Shelford said. "He is world class. There's probably only one flanker in the world to date who has equalled him and that was George Smith from Australia who retired after playing 100 tests.
"It goes back to the grounding that Canterbury and that black-and-red machine gave him. It brings on leaders and is a strong culture and he was part of that pretty much since he left college."
Under Shelford's guidance the All Blacks never lost in 14 tests at the helm.
But he is quick to deflect plaudits to the collective.
"It's not just about the captain ... The All Blacks have a great success rate no matter who is captain, the percentages are very, very high," he said. "McCaw is playing in a golden era at the moment and this particular year has been great the way they have played."
At yesterday's captain's run, McCaw had the same almost embarrassed tone when confronted with his place in history.
"You flip a coin at the start of the game, that's about all there is to it," he said. "I just want this team to do well however long I play for it. Personal things come second to that."
But some say you are the greatest?
"To be even mentioned in the same breath as Fitzy is pretty crazy really when you think about it. I don't get carried away with those sorts of things to be honest but I guess it's something to be proud of when you get time to reflect."
His status has not come without overcoming hurdles. When the All Blacks crashed out of the 2007 World Cup in that ill-fated quarterfinal the sharks circled.
Where was the leadership? Why did the All Blacks not take a drop goal?
Like all good leaders, McCaw took it all on board and made the necessary adjustments.