Tony Smith May 11, 2011
Crusaders captain Richie McCaw has assured anyone anxious about his health that he is over his concussion and "would never take a risk" with a head injury.
The All Blacks flanker was a late withdrawal from last Sunday's win over the Stormers in Cape Town after experiencing some "subtle" symptoms from a clash of heads during the match against the Western Force in Perth.
He said last night that he was confident he will lead the Crusaders against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Sunday.
Whenever McCaw is hurt about the head, rugby fans in New Zealand suddenly become know-all neurologists and start expressing concern about his playing future.
But no-one is more cautious than the man himself – and the Crusaders' coaching and medical staff dealing daily with New Zealand rugby's marquee player.
Besides, a cursory glance at the facts should allay any public concern. His latest concussion is his first since 2009 when he was sidelined after the Crusaders' previous battle in Bloemfontein where he was concussed and had a gash above his eye.
Before his first head injury, against England in June 2004, McCaw had scarcely missed a match. He suffered concussion again, against Ireland on the end-of-season tour that same year, and missed a test at Twickenham. Then, he was knocked out in a clash of heads with beefy Bulls prop Richard Bands in Pretoria in 2005 after which he stood down for five Super 14 matches.
"I missed a few games after a couple of bad knocks but since then I've missed just the odd game here and there," said McCaw, who thinks his concussion history tends to get mentioned because of "what happened in 04 and 05 , when it's been a while since I've had one".
The record bears him out. The 30-year-old has been a professional for 11 seasons and has played 105 Super Rugby games, 94 tests and 34 provincial matches. That's 233 full-on, first-class matches – an enviable record for a loose forward operating in an area of high attrition.
Giving up rugby because of concussion "hasn't ever crossed my mind", he insists. "As I said before, if I thought I was at risk and people told me that, I would listen."
But he has never suffered repeated concussions or ongoing symptoms which would cause him undue concern.
"I've been pretty lucky in that regard."
But he was certainly not silly enough to think he was bullet proof.
"There's no way I would do anything silly and play when I shouldn't. That's when you can get into trouble, if you don't respect the symptoms.
"Some people ignore the subtleties [of concussion]. I prefer not to and that's why I missed a few games [back in 2004-05)."
And that's why he ruled himself out of the Stormers game last Friday despite being desperate to play after his foot injury in preseason.
McCaw suffered a clash of heads in the first half at Perth. He had a bit of blurred vision, but it cleared up at halftime, so he carried on.
Then he hopped on a plane for the long flight across the Indian Ocean to South Africa. He was able to train but said he was just not quite 100 per cent by the captain's run on Friday so he made the decision to pull out.
But he says he feels "good as gold" now.