IMAGINE a man who is a world champion and an inspirational captain for club and country. Off the field, add charisma, intelligence and rugged good looks.
Throw in a pilot’s licence and proficiency at playing the bagpipes and we are starting to move into the territory of fiction. Maybe the hero in some schmaltzy chick lit. But this character is very real.
He has been one of the leading men of world rugby for the past decade, his name is Richie McCaw.
Teammate Dan Carter may have pipped McCaw to the IRB World Player of the Year yesterday but the fact that the All Blacks picked up team of the year and Steve Hansen coach of the year, is further endorsement for “Captain Fantastic”.
Last weekend’s loss to England was the 31-year-old’s last match before taking a six-month sabbatical in a bid to remain fit for the 2015 World Cup.
McCaw will miss a large chunk of the 2013 Super Rugby season as well as the All Black’s three-Test series against France, with all things going to plan the openside will return for the closing stages of the Canterbury Crusader’s Super 15 campaign.
The flanker may be famed for his heroics of playing on one leg in the knock-out stages of the World Cup as he had sustained fractures to his foot but he has been forthcoming in saying the break is just as much to revive him mentally as physically.
The skipper spoke in September about fears that he would lose the drive to play during his sabbatical. More recently he has spoken of his discomfort at the added media duties and intrusion that come with his status in his homeland.
It is not until you visit New Zealand that you can fully grasp the position of the game in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Kiwis claim the All Blacks “as their own” like sons or brothers and that is something you get a sense of whether New Zealanders themselves are conscious of it.
During Ireland’s victory that never was in Christchurch, journalists towards the climax could be heard uttering “Come on Richie, come on Dan” as they urged on the stars, which is unusual for battle hardened hacks.
This deeply ingrained sense of connection including the importance of passing down the All Blacks traditions to grass roots level and vice versa at first seemed unique. However, the overall sense is similar to the spirit of gaelic games in parts of Ireland where the sport permeates all aspects of life. Except that in this case the sport is both professional and played on an international arena.
For someone who has claimed that all the “extra bits” that come with being with what many would argue being the player of his generation McCaw comes across as well-adjusted, warm and at ease during press events.
There will be those who will think all this praise for the openside flanker is gushing and will ask about his knack for working his magic at slowing down the ball and keeping the referee on side.
But that is all part of being a good scavenging openside and McCaw’s ability to straddle the peripheries of the laws makes him so good in his position.
Often upon an All Black try being scored, McCaw is one of the first to congratulate the scorer. This is down to the fact he is frequently the first man to the next breakdown, unless he is on the ground.
Some could argue this talent combined with his innate leadership skills are what cost Ireland that night in Christchurch. Maybe some Irish fans might rue that McCaw’s sabbatical had not encompassed the Irish tour.
If this period of rest has the intended result to keep McCaw at his peak for the World Cup in just under three years time, he may cause the Irish more strife. Despite being allocated to separate pools at the Rugby World Cup draw in London yesterday, if Ireland and New Zealand’s group games pan out, as many would predict, green could face black in the quarter-finals with how the knockout stages have been drawn.
Thoughts of the New Zealander breaking Irish hearts, brings our memories back to McCaw as a 20-year-old in 2001. As an Irish person it is quite gratifying to think this Test career began in Lansdowne Road. Here’s hoping the post-sabbatical McCaw will make at least one more visit to Dublin before taking a permanent break.