Friday Dec 31, 2010
While much of New Zealand will come out in force to mark the beginning of 2011, Richie McCaw has a different reason to celebrate these holidays.
Not only has he led his teammates through a successful season to retain both the Bledisloe Cup and Tri Nations trophies, the All Black captain turns 30 today.
McCaw would not reveal much of what he had planned for his birthday, but said he would be marking the occasion with friends.
"I'll have a few mates around at a house down south. We'll have a bit of time down there which will be pretty good."
Rugby has dominated McCaw's life since he made the All Blacks squad in 2001, but the open-side flanker stressed the importance of having a break.
"You've got to make sure you take time out and put rugby to the side for a while.
"But as soon as the new year rolls around, it will be starting to plan your way back into Super Rugby."
McCaw has much to celebrate, receiving his third IRB International Player of the Year award this year and equalling the record of most tests played for New Zealand.
He played for New Zealand Under-19s in his first year out of high school, and captained the under-21s in 2000.
Looking back on his younger days, his former high-school rugby coach said McCaw had always been a good player but began to shine in his 7th form year as vice-captain of the 1st XV.
"He was always in our A-team for his age group but in the 7th form he started to hit his straps.
"He was our player of the year - that's a very prestigious prize," said Otago Boys High School's Brian Ashwin.
"He made his name when we went to the top-four XV tournament in 1998, he found himself on the national stage almost straight away after that with the New Zealand U19," Mr Ashwin said.
While recognising the schoolboy's talent, Mr Ashwin said there was no way of telling he would go on to captain the All Blacks.
"There's so many pathways that young men can take when they leave school and professional rugby had only just started [when McCaw left school]."
But McCaw's captain at high school, Ryan Martin, said his skill was evident in the school yard - even if many did not pick up on it.
"People often ask me did I notice at that stage whether he was something special, but I think he was a little ahead of his time with what he was doing in rugby.
"He was scavenging for the ball on the ground a lot more then and in the late 90s flankers were playing a different role to that," said Mr Martin.
The team finished the season first equal, drawing five-all in the national final with Rotorua Boys High.
As well as coming into his own on the rugby field, Mr Martin said McCaw also developed more confidence in his 7th form year.
"In his early years at school he was pretty quiet and reserved and it wasn't really till 7th form that he kind of started to blossom and girls started to notice him. He came out of his shell a bit more but he wasn't loud or boisterous or anything," Mr Martin said.
Mr Ashwin and Mr Martin agree that McCaw displayed brilliance in the classroom as well as on the rugby field.
Mr Ashwin taught McCaw in accounting.
"If I remember he got Scholarship [high Bursary marks] in accounting that year, and was runner-up for dux, he worked very hard and obviously had considerable ability - he was extremely motivated."
Mr Martin said he was amazing. "I was in a couple of his classes - he was a freak academically.
"Basically, whatever he was involved with he was pretty good at."
By Hamish Fletcher