Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Richie McCaw: The heart says yes, the head no BOBBY BRYAN 24/09/2012

I have this thing about the use of the tag "greatest'' in a sport like rugby.
Comparing Jonah Lomu with Colin Meads, or Christian Cullen with Brian Lochore is as braeburn and California as it gets. Lomu was a great winger, Meads was a great lock, Cullen a great fullback and Lochore a great loosie, the braeburn is a great apple and California is a great orange. So sure the first four are great rugby players, and the last two great fruit, but different kinds.
So now we have Richie McCaw, who Phil Gifford has said pips Meads as the best All Black. There is no doubting he is great, and anyone arguing he isn't is either a one-eyed northern hemisphere rugby nut who likes to use the words "McCaw" and "cheat " in the same sentence, or someone who knows nothing about rugby (these two positions can co-exist).
But can we really say "McCaw is the greatest ever All Black"?
I confess a part of me really wants to say that and part of me is quite insistent that I say do. This is of course my heart. But my head still has control on this one and it insists that we don't go there yet. So let's explore the argument for the heart and compare it to the head.
The heart recalls many things, it recalls a begrudging respect as led spirited Crusader and Canterbury teams against my beloved Wellington Lions and Hurricanes.
There was always a "damn he is good" thing that you cannot but mumble under your breath, coupled with the "why can't we have one of those?"
My heart also recalls how fantastic it feels when he is dressed in black. He's intelligent, gutsy, talented and such a powerful leader.
How powerful? That is judged by the very event that many use to question his leadership, that dreaded quarter-final in Wales 2007.
It was a lesson in management vs leadership. McCaw should have called for a drop kick but he made a call not to.
This can be argued to be a very bad management call. The mere fact that his team followed his instructions to the letter shows how powerful a leader he is. This was the charge of the light brigade, blindly his troops followed him once more into the breach. This team would crawl over broken glass for this guy. Now my heart likes that.
Then in 2011 Richie and his leadership triumphed. My heart really liked that. McCaw gives everything, you can see he lives by that motto "give a 100% or go home". This combined with his amazing skill set, adaptability and his absolute professionalism, has easily won my heart over.
However, the head, says "but". This but is simply about the logic of the apples and oranges. Not just the how do we compare a flanker with a first five, a wing, a fullback, a lock or even a different type of loosie? But also the how do we compare players across the eras.
I have had the great fortune to watch Josh Kronfeld and Michael Jones play live. The latter has always been my favourite All Black.
I recall watching Jones do things on the field that should not be allowed; he constantly amazed me. His ability to read the game is second to none, his speed and skill set were just incredible. As a pure rugby fan he was like watching a dream; when the gods invented rugby this was how they saw it being played.
But, and it's a fair but, the game is so different today, and the player has evolved. If Jones was still playing would his skill set suit the game? That is the big unanswerable question. For the record, I think he would make a great second five in today's game.
The head, therefore, has this very clear position. Logically you cannot call McCaw the greatest All Black, simply because you can never prove it.
At the moment my head is winning the battle. Logic is simple. Now I do need to say if McCaw makes the next World Cup, and lifts the thing again, the head stands no chance and I assure you I will be the first to stand on any rooftop you choose and scream "Richie McCaw is the greatest".

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