Curtain comes down on storied McCaw career

It’s one of the great fallacies that Richie McCaw is your archetypal, down-to-earth Kiwi male.

Raised on a farm, loves his rugby and has humility by the spade-load.

But that’s about where the comparisons end.

There isn’t a Kiwi bloke in the same ball park when it comes to ability, accomplishments and nationwide admiration.

One of the colossal careers in world sport concludes on Saturday when McCaw leads the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup final, locking horns with the Wallabies for a remarkable 37th occasion.

Whatever the result, the non-stop flanker is expected to apply the career brakes soon after the tournament.

It will end 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 and also developed a love for gliding under the guidance of his grandfather James, a World War II fighter pilot.

He still goes up when he gets the chance, enjoying the opportunity to escape the taxing demands of his station.

McCaw shone at Otago Boys High School for his academic prowess as much as anything, 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 and has never looked back.

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

McCaw had notched a world record 147 Tests ahead of the Twickenham finale. He had won 130 of them in an era of unprecedented All Blacks success.

Hoisting the Webb Ellis Cup a second time would add another record to McCaw’s bulging list.

And it would be the fitting send-off for a man labelled among the greatest to play the game by his coach, Steve Hansen.

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

The three-time world player of year has also been an integral cog in the Crusaders’ Super Rugby success.

He’s achieved it alongside another genuine All Blacks great who signs off this week, first five-eighth Dan Carter.

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

The response is always to brush such tactics aside in the polite, matter-of-fact manner which is the McCaw public way.

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

Prime Minister John Key suggests a career in politics lies in wait for a man he describes as a national treasure.

McCaw, who has already turned down an offer of a knighthood, is sure to have been considering his post-rugby options.

It would surprise if it doesn’t begin with a glide high above the Central Otago landscape he describes as the most picturesque in the world.

* All Offers and Promotions posted in this article excludes NSW residents.
Stay up to date with the latest sports news
Follow our social accounts to get exclusive content and all the latest sporting news!