By Donnchadh Boyle
Wednesday November 17 2010
IN a way, he was made here. Richie McCaw was welcomed into the world of Test rugby at Lansdowne Road, moulded in a furnace fuelled by Eric Miller, David Wallace and Anthony Foley in a 2001 debut.
Ireland's back-row performed admirably that day (Miller scored a try on a day where the home side led by 14 points early in the second half) but a 20-year-old McCaw emerged with the man of the match award. Another 91 Tests later and he is just as influential.
"I hadn't played a lot of rugby when I came on that tour and I wanted to make sure that I (deserved) to be there really," he recalled.
McCaw's CV speaks for itself. On Saturday he will go past Sean Fitzpatrick's New Zealand record of 92 caps, as will team-mate Mils Muliaina if both are selected for the clash at the Aviva Stadium.
He is revered in New Zealand but some parts of the rugby world shift awkwardly at the mention of his name, with the suggestion that he, and the All Blacks in general, get favourable treatment from referees.
The statistics from the Tri Nations back up that claim. The figures showed that South Africa were the most penalised, conceding six penalties per yellow card. The Australians' figure was remarkably similar -- just seven per card but, incredibly, New Zealand incurred a yellow for every 43 penalties.
They have proved adept at slowing the ball down and frustrating opponents to the point that Rocky Elsom delivered a thinly veiled plea to referees ahead of the final game of this year's Tri Nations in September.
"Over the course of the Tri Nations, the number of yellow cards at the breakdown has been pretty well non-existent," said the Australia captain. "I guess you'd say it's surprising that there haven't been many at the breakdown."
McCaw has only been yellow-carded once in his career, a fact that flies in the face of his reputation as a player who plays on the edge.
Eyebrows were raised in this country when McCaw was chosen as the 2009 IRB Player of the Year ahead of the Grand Slam and Heineken Cup-winning Brian O'Driscoll, yet his affable demeanour and ability to say the right things at the right time make it difficult to hold too much of a grudge.
Making his debut at Lansdowne Road was "special". O'Gara, O'Driscoll and D'Arcy are "pretty classy". With regard to the Jamie Heaslip incident which saw the Ireland No 8 sent off in New Plymouth in June, McCaw laughed: "I obviously annoyed him somehow, didn't I?" before adding that "what happens out the field stays there" and describing the Naas man as a "handful".
"If we allow them to function then they will show they can (play), like they did in the second half in New Zealand in June," McCaw said of Ireland. "We started to give them a bit of an easy ride and they certainly made us pay for it. If we do that again we will be in trouble."
At home, the Kiwi scrum has been criticised, having been penalised several times on opposition put-in. There's been some head scratching in the New Zealand camp as they try and figure out what they are doing wrong but McCaw and his men haven't got to this point in their lofty careers by not learning quickly from mistakes.
As usual, nothing has been left to chance during training this week with McCaw also looking to avoid the ignominy of becoming New Zealand's first captain to lose to Ireland.
"Look, I don't want to be, end of story. This year is very much about this group and this tour, we want to make sure we are better than last week and perform to go and win. That's our role and you don't think about that other stuff."
- Donnchadh Boyle