Before All Black captain Richie McCaw could call time on his career he first had to say goodbye.
McCaw announced his retirement from rugby after a world record 148 Tests but not before, in the same selfless way he has put his body on the line over 14 years, he put someone else first – Jonah Lomu, who died suddenly in Auckland the day before.
“He was a great man and a great All Black,” he said of the hulking winger who was a teammate when McCaw made his Test debut against Ireland in 2001.
“To play alongside a guy that you watched as a young fella was pretty amazing.
“I was lined up for the first anthem and I was standing beside guys like Jonah as a 20-year-old – that was an unreal experience.”
Lomu scored one of his 37 Test tries in that 40-29 win in Dublin and it was on that tour that McCaw found out what a global star Lomu was.
“We got to a training ground where there were hundreds of people in Ireland and I hopped off the bus and a whole mob came at me and I thought `this is pretty cool to be an All Black’, but they just kept running past and behind me was Jonah and that was the man they were after.
“He’s a legend of the game, I think bigger overseas than he is here in New Zealand,” the 34-year-old said.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said Lomu was one of the greats of the team but humble.
“But the biggest thing is not the fact that we’ve lost an All Black, because we have lost many All Blacks over the years, but the fact we have a man who has left behind a family – two young sons and a wife.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to them.”