All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw plays down hype ahead of record-breaking test

It’s easy to become blasé about the perpetual class and consistency of the All Blacks captain. But now might be the time to savour it for all its worth as Richie McCaw runs out for what could well be his final rugby appearance on New Zealand soil.

It will almost certainly be his last home test as an All Black, with just the World Cup to come before the greatest loose forward to lace up a pair of boots is expected to announce his retirement.

That McCaw will break the world record of Irishman Brian O’Driscoll in the process of earning his 142nd test cap – he has started in 136 of those contests, for goodness sake – at Eden Park in a Saturday night showdown against the Wallabies is hugely fitting.

2011 World Cup -Martin Myers talking to McCaw – pic Razia Myers

It’s a big contest, with the All Blacks coming off a rare defeat, with the Bledisloe on the line (the Wallabies can end a 13-year drought if they win or draw) and with the All Blacks desperate to keep alive a remarkable winning streak at Eden Park (33 since 1994) and at home (37 since 2009).

Sure, there are bigger fish to fry in coming months. But right here, right now this is a contest the All Blacks are desperate to win for many reasons, just one of which is they would love to send off their skipper, and a few of his seasoned colleagues such as Dan Carter, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodocock, with a victory to mark his final home test.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen paid a handsome tribute to a fellow who made his test debut on the 2001 tour north, and has been nigh on unmovable since. But there was not a hint of hyperbole in the words of a man who does not indulge in such things.

“He’s gone on to be definitely in modern terms anyway the greatest rugby player New Zealand has ever had, and maybe the greatest player to have played the game in the modern era,” Hansen said.

“In a position that is hugely strenuous, not too many guys get through their career without getting badly injured. There’s a high workrate involved in playing openside flanker.

“But the thing I marvel about Ricko is the quality of the performance week in, week out is always well into the 90s in percentage terms. To do that is pretty remarkable – extraordinary really.”

McCaw, a threetime world player of the year, has emerged as someone who has almost transcended his sport. He has an extraordinary 124 wins in his 141 tests thus far, and has captained his country a record 105 times. At 34 he’s still playing world-class rugby.

But more than the numbers or even the performances, he has set a level of accountability, excellence and self-governance in these All Blacks that sets him on a level all of his own. His legacy is, frankly, mind-boggling.

“I just think he’s an extraordinary athlete who’s done his country an enormous amount of good,” added Hansen. “When he finishes and has got time to reflect he’ll be really proud of what he’s achieved. But it hasn’t been spoken about as a group, and that’s the way he likes it. He’s putting the team first and it’s another day at the office where he’s got to play well.”

Team-mate Victor Vito marvels at the numbers his skipper has posted. “I can believe it because it is Richie. If anything he is getting better and better with age. It would be pretty unbelievable if it was anyone else, but I know the drive that he has so it’s no surprise.”

But the skipper himself was in no mood for reflection as he spoke on test eve. At least not yet anyway.

“From my point of view it’s something that’s going to be a reality at some point. But I haven’t allowed myself to get caught up in that because I want to train as hard as I can so I can play well on Saturday.

“I love playing here. It’s a great occasion, and it’s just great we’ve got an opportunity with the Bledisloe on the line. There are some fond memories and I’d love to put another one in the bank tomorrow.”

Surely that’s a given.


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