Richie McCaw’s long, slow goodbye finally comes to an end
It was hardly a shocking development. One way or another, Richie McCaw had been retiring all season. Thursday was simply the day he confirmed it, to warm applause from some of the media present at New Zealand Rugby’s (NZR) Molesworth Street offices.
From the lack of a contract extension with NZR, rumours of a deal with a foreign club, to the documentary crew that trailed him everywhere in recent times and finally the post-World Cup photos the All Blacks’ other retirees, there was plenty to indicate McCaw had come to the end.
He said he needed the World Cup victory just to finally confirm in his mind that he’d done everything he wanted and would be walking away for the right reasons.
Richie McCaw, centre, flanked by Steve Hansen, left, and Steve Tew at Thursday’s retirement announcement.
Not every player gets that luxury. Injuries or the selectors’ axe hit them long before then. But McCaw was no ordinary player, nor ordinary ambassador for NZR, and couldn’t be begrudged the exit of his choosing, even if Jonah Lomu’s death lent a slightly awkward air to the occasion.
“Today’s not exactly as we planned,” NZR chief executive Steve Tew said, before asking the room to rise and acknowledge Lomu with a moment’s silence.
When it came time to talk again, it was McCaw who took the floor and Lomu was the topic.
That was right and proper. McCaw is a greatly respected and admired figure whose conduct, as much as his rugby, have been testament to his qualities as a man. In that respect, his parents might be prouder of that than the 148 test matches and two successful World Cup campaigns as All Blacks captain.
But Lomu was a hero the world over and that elevates him above even McCaw. Not for the only time in his career, McCaw had the humility to recognise that the moment belonged to someone else.
There were several nice touches from then on, particularly the video tributes from Springboks captain Jean de Villiers and Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder. McCaw doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve so it was interesting to see how Blackadder’s words affected him.
Some team environments are all about the individual. But the team comes first at the Crusaders and, in that respect, McCaw said he found the perfect home when he went north from Otago Boys’ High School.
Tew and Steve Hansen, who flanked McCaw once the press conference portion of Thursday’s announcement began, have been with him virtually ever since. If there were visible signs of sadness, they came from Tew.
A great rugby career wasn’t just coming to an end but a great era in New Zealand rugby as well. McCaws don’t grow on trees and Tew was happy to admit he owed some of his own climb from the Canterbury Rugby Union to NZR, to the day when Hansen marched into his office at Lancaster Park and said “I don’t care how much he costs, we’ve got to get him.”
Hansen, then head of Canterbury’s academy system, didn’t even know McCaw’s name. He just knew the kid could play. Sixteen years on, the kid’s decided to play no more.
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