CHRIS BARCLAY 25/09/2012
Perhaps he's an ordinary Kiwi bloke after all - shortly before the All Blacks explored the environs of the team hotel in Buenos Aires their inspirational leader revealed plans to embark on his own voyage of self-discovery.
When Richie McCaw goes on tour in the New Year there will be no entourage, it is a belated OE designed to ensure he returns to greener pastures in a bid to play through to the All Blacks defence of the World Cup in England in 2015.
The 31-year-old was vague about the itinerary he'll incorporate into a six-month sabbatical condoned by the NZRU, All Blacks management, Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder and surely the sensible rugby-loving public - but he won't be packing a kit bag.
McCaw's decision to miss the bulk of the 2013 Super Rugby competition and the inbound tour by World Cup runners-up France in June was revealed by Fairfax Media on Sunday and yesterday the 110-test warrior rationalised his decision as the All Blacks prepare for their eighth international of the season - a demanding assignment against Los Pumas where victory clinches the inaugural Rugby Championship.
Although McCaw's status as World Cup-winning captain, the first All Black centurion and the game's premier openside flanker for a decade ensures he is immune from criticism at home the Knight-in-waiting was concerned his stress leave would be interpreted as shirking.
"The big thing I want to make sure is there is not a perception I'm just hanging in there and just being around for the sake of it," he said.
First five-eighth Aaron Cruden, a mere 14 tests into his career, scoffed at that suggestion from a team perspective.
"The legacy he's going to leave when he does finally decide to call it quits, no one will ever question his character," he said.
"That's definitely the case around the boys."
Dogged by a foot injury during the World Cup and requiring on-going maintenance for his left knee, McCaw said his stand down was just as important to refresh mentally.
McCaw, who made his test debut at Lansdowne Road in November 2001, could not pinpoint a specific moment when he realised the toll an illustrious career had taken on his body and soul, though discussions with Blackadder before the Crusaders faltered settled on a plan which ideally allows him to complete his four-year contract by retaining the Webb Ellis Trophy at Twickenham.
"A lot of guys look at the calendar now and depending on where you are in your career think how you're going to deal with it. There's a lot of rugby these days," he explained, adding his hlf-year holiday is probably a one-off exercise.
"From my point of view I knew if I carried on relentlessly for the next couple of years without having this break then I'd probably get to the point where mentally, more than anything, you've just had enough. I didn't want that to be the case."
Anyone questioning McCaw's commitment need only review the tape of the All Blacks 21-11 triumph over South Africa at Forsyth Barr Stadium to reflect, like Cruden, on his colossal contribution to their current 14-test winning sequence.
He exceeded the gain line, shouldered his defensive workload and made such a nuisance of himself at the breakdown Dean Greyling joined a rogues gallery guilty of targeting McCaw off the ball - this time with a forearm to the jaw.
McCaw has been targeted since his third test - diminutive Pumas halfback Agustin Pichot was yellow carded for head butting him during All Blacks stopover in Buenos Aires in 2001.
Since then McCaw has pretty much worn crosshairs as well as the No.7 on his back, not that unsavoury treatment has finally gotten the better of him.
"When you're a loose forward you're right in the thick of the action and people try and get rid of you, stop your influence," he shrugged.
"If it's done the right way you accept that as the way it is. We do it to other players."
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