Tuesday 27 September 2016

Modest Richie McCaw poised to equal and soon eclipse Brian O'Driscoll's record

Oliver Brown

Published 08/08/2015 | 02:30

New Zealand captain Richie McCaw will equal Brian O’Driscoll’s record of 141 Test appearances when he faces Australia in Sydney today
New Zealand captain Richie McCaw will equal Brian O’Driscoll’s record of 141 Test appearances when he faces Australia in Sydney today

Richie McCaw turned a little bashful at the reminder that he was about to emulate one of the few records in rugby that he had not already shattered.

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Today, the All Blacks' peerless captain is poised to equal Brian O'Driscoll's world record of 141 Test appearances, a feat of almost unthinkable longevity for a forward.

"I'm just happy that I'm still around," the 34-year-old said, understated as ever, as he prepared to confront Australia in the Rugby Championship decider here. "I'm certainly proud that I can still foot it after all these years."

It is astonishing, this degree of self-effacement, when one considers McCaw's career. In a reflection of the credo that has sustained him throughout 14 years of wearing the sport's most iconic jersey, he explained how any thoughts of his own achievements were for retirement, which he has heavily suggested could come after the World Cup in England.

Preparing for two Bledisloe Cup Tests in eight days, he said: "I have always felt that it is not just a case of racking up numbers, but what you actually do when you're on the field. I hope, in these matches, that I play as well as I ever have."

The portents could scarcely be more auspicious. New Zealand have held the Bledisloe Cup for a decade and McCaw, who has an 89pc winning record in Tests, has no intention of relinquishing it during the last days of his watch.

His debut for the All Blacks coincided with the end of a period of Australian dominance of the trophy and he recognises, with the prospect of a febrile 80,000-strong crowd at Sydney's ANZ Stadium today, its enduring significance.

"I would love nothing better than to keep the Bledisloe in the cupboard," he said. "I still remember when we didn't have it, and the Wallabies will be desperate to put their hands on it again. This is what makes a great occasion, that it means so much to both teams. I never want to give it back. That's the motivator. If I do hang up the boots and we still have it, I'll be happy."

The very fact that McCaw tempers talk of retiring with the word "if" underlines how much of a wrench it will be to walk away this year, when he hopes to become the first captain to win back-to-back World Cups - no team has ever retained the title.

Sabbatical

He almost had to be begged to go on a sabbatical, for his own good, when Steve Hansen took over as head coach in 2011, and is so consumed by the pursuit of history that the notion of a life beyond the All Blacks remains unconscionable.

But retire he will, given the sheer accumulation of batterings his body has taken. As he reflected yesterday, he disclosed that his hand had been hurt in training by a prop he diplomatically refused to name.

The battle in the pack today will be no less ferocious. So precarious is this year's Rugby Championship, where Australia clutch a tantalising chance to win a first title since 2011, that coach Michael Cheika has combined specialist opensides David Pocock and Michael Hooper.

Their partnership proved such a success in the second halves of Australia's victories over South Africa and Argentina that Cheika is relying on the pair to be a crucial weapon in giving McCaw the runaround and denying New Zealand their fourth consecutive title.

Where the Wallabies look more vulnerable is at inside-centre, where Matt Giteau is giving away a weight disadvantage of over 4st to Sonny Bill Williams.

Even though Hansen's starting XV here is not as strong as the version that he is likely to unleash at the World Cup, he remains far too wise an owl to succumb to Cheika's habit of lavishly praising the All Blacks for their extraordinary success.

"Michael has been very complimentary about how well we're going, so I guess he must feel that we're going to turn up feeling this is some kind of cakewalk," Hansen said.

"That is most definitely not the case."

Australia v New Zealand,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 11.05

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