Curtain closes on McCaw’s stellar career

Matter of fact, immovable and right on the ball.

Richie McCaw’s retirement announcement was accompanied by no real bells and whistles, which sums up the man and a rugby career without peer.

One of the colossal stints in world sport ended on Thursday when McCaw announced his farewell from all rugby.

He began his announcement by paying tribute to former teammate Jonah Lomu whose sudden death on Wednesday aged 40 cast a dark shadow over not only the All Blacks, but the nation.

McCaw chose to bring the curtain down 18 days after he became the first man to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for a second time – the All Blacks’ triumph over Australia at Twickenham the only appropriate conclusion for the great flanker.

It ended almost 15 years of throwing himself into the international fray and will leave many wondering how the All Blacks will cope without a player revered across the land simply as “Richie”.

The McCaw story is familiar to just about any Kiwi with a passing interest in rugby.

Raised in rural North Otago, he played rugby as a youngster but was equally taken by gliding – coming under the wing of his grandfather James, a World War II fighter pilot.

He still goes up when he gets the chance, having relished any opportunity to escape the taxing demands of his station and is now working towards a commercial pilot’s licence.

McCaw shone at Otago Boys’ High School for his academic prowess as much as sport, finishing runner-up to the dux in his final year.

Rugby became a priority at Lincoln University, where a determined McCaw’s anticipation and courage at the breakdown elevated him rapidly into the Canterbury ranks and an All Blacks tour late in 2001.

He was man of the match on debut against Ireland, his influence and involvement a warning of what was to follow.

A year after succeeding Tana Umaga permanently as skipper in 2006 he suffered his career nadir, when New Zealand lost to France in the World Cup quarter-finals.

Criticised for his leadership shortcomings, McCaw considered relinquishing the captaincy.

He didn’t, and won redemption by defying a broken bone in his foot to spearhead the triumphant 2011 campaign on home soil.

He constantly modified his game and never shirked his duties in the most intensely physical of positions.

McCaw’s 148 Tests stand alone, along with his 131 wins among numerous other world records.

Often compared to All Blacks icon of the 1960s and 70s Sir Colin Meads, many believe McCaw has his nose in front through sheer weight of achievement and his relentlessly high standards.

The three-time world player of year was also an integral cog in the Crusaders’ Super Rugby success, achieved alongside another departing All Blacks great, Dan Carter.

While a book-promoting Carter hasn’t escaped the limelight since the World Cup, McCaw chose to lay low. His only media appearance came inadvertently, when photographed among dozens of helicopter pilots battling frost in Marlborough.

McCaw has been subjected to constant allegations of cheating and a stream of cheap shots on the field in recent seasons, all apparent attempts to put him off his game.

The response was always to brush such tactics aside in the polite, stoic manner which is the McCaw way.

Losses have always been accepted with dignity while the 1000th rendition of the same questions about the breakdown, cheating and retirement have somehow been greeted earnestly.

Prime Minister John Key wants to make a second offer of a knighthood to a man he describes as a national treasure.

McCaw, who fended off the first overture, may accept it now that he will no longer grace the rugby field.

With a career in the skies above New Zealand ahead of him it may be that the voice in the cockpit will be that of your captain, Sir Richie McCaw.

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