All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw has brought down the curtain on his record-breaking rugby career, saying the time was right to hang up his boots.
McCaw departs as the game’s most capped player, with 148 Test appearances, the last in the World Cup final in October, when he became the first captain to lift the trophy for the second time.
While the 34-year-old loose forward waited almost three weeks to announce his retirement on Thursday, so as not to deflect attention away from the All Blacks’ World Cup victory, he says the decision hasn’t really sunk in.
“You try to prepare yourself for this day and as a player you always know it’s coming,” he said.
“But I don’t think it’s going to really sink in until you see the boys going back to training and the games.”
However, McCaw, whose Test career began with a man-of-the-match performance against Ireland as a 20-year-old in 2001, also said he would leave with no regrets.
He had taken the time since the All Blacks win over the Wallabies in the Twickenham final to ensure he was making the right move and he said one thing he didn’t want to do was “limp to the end”.
“I’ve done everything I wanted to do,” he said.
“I had a hell of time and I’m excited about what’s next.”
What’s next includes pursing a career in aviation and McCaw will begin working towards getting a commercial pilot’s licence with Christchurch Helicopters.
“I know it will never replace the thrill of running out in front of 80,000 … but it’s not far short,” he said.
Before confirming his retirement at the media conference in Wellington, McCaw paid tribute to former All Blacks teammate Jonah Lomu, who died suddenly in Auckland on Wednesday.
He said news of superstar winger’s passing came as a shock.
“He was a great man and a great All Black.”
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, part of the Test coaching staff during the past 12 years of McCaw’s international career, is unequivocal about the player’s standing in the game.
“In my opinion, he will go down not only as the greatest All Black of all time, but the greatest captain we have ever had, and possibly the greatest player to have ever played the game in the modern era,” he said.
Hansen said the number of Tests that McCaw played, especially given the demands of his position, was in itself something to marvel at.
NZ Rugby chief executive Steve Tew rated McCaw as the most influential player of his generation, “if not of all time”.
The team that McCaw played most the most Tests against were the Wallabies (37 for 29 wins) and Australian Rugby Union chief executive Bill Pulver sent his congratulations “on a remarkable career”.
“For 15 years he has been a highly-respected adversary for Australian teams and is a class individual and a tremendous competitor who is deeply admired by fans and his peers,” he said.
Retired Wallabies flanker Phil Waugh went further by describing McCaw, an adversary at Test and Super Rugby level, as the best of all time.
“He came on to the scene a pretty fresh-faced young New Zealander and he finishes with such an outstanding record,” Waugh said.
“I do think he’s the best rugby player of all time. He’s won more trophies and medals than any other player.”