LIAM NAPIER IN JOHANNESBURG
Richie McCaw is respected and revered in South Africa - and hated.
His cult-figure status is not confined to New Zealand.
Our greatest rugby foes loathe to admit it, but they, too, believe he is superhuman - a cut above most of their legends.
Esteemed figures such as Naas Botha, Danie Craven, Joost van der Westhuizen, Francois Pienaar, John Smit and Frik du Preez were superb Boks. None are of McCaw's stature.
“It hurts to say this, but simply put, possibly the best rugby player that has lived,” said Gary Gold, Springboks forwards coach from 2008-11.
Gold's view is commonly held, but a strong level of animosity towards the inspirational All Blacks captain is also prevalent.
“He has a few detractors here who think he cheats a bit, but which opensides don't?" former All Blacks and Lions coach John Mitchell said.
"I tend to get my pistols up a bit when I hear the cheating calls.
“He's like a good politician. The good ones stay in power.”
McCaw's understanding of rugby's intricacies allows him to exploit the laws and referees. His status as one of the greatest players means he gets away with infringements others could not.
In this arena, Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer feels McCaw lives on the edge better than anyone.
“For the South African public he is a guy they sometimes hate, but it's because he's so professional with the referees he gets away with it,” Meyer explains. “In South Africa if they hate you, you are a cult figure. It shows the respect because they know he is such a great competitor at the breakdown.”
Down the line, when the 31-year-old retires, his place on the pedestal is assured worldwide. But, until then, he will continue to cause outcry.
“I've seen it with guys like Sean Fitzpatrick, once they finish playing the respect is even more and they accommodate those guys, but when they're playing there's a different feeling,” Meyer said.
McCaw's status is reflected in the way the Boks have targeted him - often illegally - over the years. There's not just been one enforcer; many have had a crack, tried to provoke him during a match, take him out altogether.
“Sometimes I don't know how he can walk but he just keeps on going,” Meyer said.
Some staunch South Africans believe McCaw deserves everything he gets.