Sunday, October 30, 2011

Relief and glory - McCaw's defining moment MARC HINTON 24/10/2011

REVIEW: Richly deserved. The finest player in the modern game can now call himself a world champion.

Last night, at a black-washed Eden Park, All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw shook off his chronically sore foot, the weight of a nation, the burden of history and some magnificently determined Frenchmen to lead his All Blacks to the victory that will - make no mistake - define his life's work.

Nearly 10 years after he launched this spectacular career of his on a crisp November afternoon in Dublin, McCaw now has his crowning moment. Like David Kirk 24 years earlier, he has led the All Blacks to the finest accomplishment in the game, but unlike his predecessor, he's had to do so beneath an almost suffocating load of expectation, anticipation and frustration.

But he's finally got there, at his third attempt, his second at the helm. He's gathered his men together and taken them on a wonderful ride through this World Cup, climaxing in last night's gruelling, tension-filled final that went right down to the wire.

McCaw has not been at his best at this tournament. But he's found a way to be effective, rolling up his sleeves and getting stuck in around the tackle area, where he does his best work. Last night, in his 103rd test, the 30-year-old played an ideal foil to the hard-charging Kieran Read through the first 40 (the All Blacks led 5-0 at halftime) and was a rock for the New Zealanders in the second half as they had to absorb a mountain of pressure from Les Bleus.

Surely this now puts McCaw at the top table of the pantheon of All Black greats, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Colin Meads, Wilson Whineray, BJ Lochore and Sean Fitzpatrick. His leadership has been tremendous over the last four years, and last night he had to call on all his nous and mana to inspire his men to victory.

"It's hard to describe," said the skipper at the end.
"I'm absolutely shagged. We had to dig as deep as we've probably ever dug before. I'm just so proud of every one of the guys.
"We couldn't have been under more pressure at times but we stuck to our guns and got there in the end."

The skipper was also hugely proud of how his men dealt with the massive disruption of losing Aaron Cruden after half an hour.

"The key was expecting things like that to happen... When we had problems the next guy stood up and the next guy stood up, and I take my hat off to the guy (Donald) but it's not about one guy. Everybody played as well as they could.
"When things happened we just kept getting up and kept getting up and trusting in your mate beside you. It was 30 guys and the management and everyone played their part. It's hard to describe, but around New Zealand people in the streets have supported us so much and it's great that we could repay them.
"There's going to be a lot of stories told as we get older. This is a tough group of men and they've left everything out there tonight and the whole country should be proud of them."

McCaw was a long way from the only hero for the All Blacks who were pushed to the limit by a fabulous French display, led by their own brilliant skipper Thierry Dusautoir, deservedly named man of the match for a towering performance.

This was Brad Thorn's final test in a magnificent international career across two codes, and he gave it every ounce of effort he had. As per usual.

Has he ever taken a bigger lineout than the one he got his mitts on with just over a minute last night that enabled the All Blacks to close out this match? His smile was as broad as anyone's at the end as he bathed in the beautiful light of victory.

Jerome Kaino, who has been the best All Black, and quite possibly the best player, at this tournament had another strong match, as did No 8 Read.
It was not a night for the backs to shine, but the All Blacks did well to regather their wits after the first-half injury to Cruden and an off-night by Piri Weepu.

Credit too to that unlikely hero Donald who came on and slotted what turned out to be the World-Cup winning penalty early in the second half.
For that his skipper will surely be forever grateful.

- Stuff

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