TOBY ROBSON IN ROME
Richie McCaw is a man with feathers on his shoulders.
The All Blacks captain is about as relaxed as he gets during test week when he wanders into the team hotel lobby for a chat.
He's still got his trusty Warwick B4 notebook in tow, but it's in
his shoulders and his eyes that the load looks a little lighter.
In four weeks he'll get the break he craves. He'll head to the beach
for two months before boarding a flight to the United States for a
It'll be the first time since he started captaining the All Blacks fulltime in 2006 that he'll have a summer to himself.
No sponsors, no media, no planning, no pressure.
McCaw got a sneak peek this past week into looking at the All Blacks
from the outside in when he handed the captaincy to Kieran Read.
At the captain's run the openside struck an unusually solitary
figure on the far side of Stadio Olimpico as his team-mates huddled
around Read for their final instructions.
Next June the distance will be far greater.
It could be construed as a stressful time, perhaps one for second thoughts about taking a six-month sabbatical.
What if McCaw's battered body shuts down without the urgency of his
rigid preparation and recovery regimes? What if the mental flame
flickers just a little? What if a young lion prowls into his jungle in
The 31-year-old shrugs his shoulders at all three. It's the alternative that he can't fathom.
"If I'd gone into next year and worn myself down and that mental
desire to be there starts to waiver then you are useless anyway," he
"But look, yeah, I'm at that part of my career where you know there
are no guarantees anyway. You control what you can and I have an
opportunity to come back physically in pretty good shape and mentally
raring to go.
"If that doesn't happen then it was never going to happen ... what
selections are made and all that soft of stuff, well it's out of my
control anyway, that's how I look at it.
"If someone flies past you, well, that's just life, isn't it. As
long as you do everything you can to be your best. I believe guys get
worried about who is coming behind, but if someone's good enough to pass
you then so be it."
It's a glimpse into what makes McCaw tick. He's a realist, but he's also an optimist.
"We have a thing in New Zealand that just because you hit a certain
age we look at all the things you do wrong rather than the things you do
right," he said.
"Yeah, some people fall off and, physically, injuries come into it,
but a lot of it comes down to that mental side and whether you have that
burning desire to still do it. As soon as that goes, then the form
goes, and physically everything else will follow."
It's hard not to conjure images of McCaw's former team-mates Jerry
Collins and Rodney So'oialo whose slides were surprisingly dramatic.
McCaw doesn't plan to suffer the same fate and hopes his time off will kick him through to 2015.
"If we have a culture of guys who say, ‘why can't you be [the other
side of 30] then guys will be excited by it and if the workloads are
managed somehow then, hey, there's no reason why not."