Friday 24 November 2017

High-flying McCaw seeks Kiwi response

Brendan Gallagher

Like any top glider pilot -- and Richie McCaw is rapidly becoming exactly that -- the New Zealand captain knows that occasionally, no matter how frustrating and counter-intuitive, you need to lose ground and altitude in order to reposition yourself and soar even higher.

McCaw is marginally less devastated than normal at the All Blacks' defeat against Australia in Hong Kong last week, which ended a run of 15 consecutive victories. A small dip in form could work to their advantage and events in Hong Kong may not have done England any favours at Twickenham today.

Heading towards the World Cup next year, McCaw wants any hint of complacency eradicated from a young, developing All Blacks side and the misery of last Saturday was worth a hundred team talks from him or coach Graham Henry.

"As soon as you think you have got this game mastered it will come back on you," McCaw said. "In an ideal world, you should have the right attitude from the start so that you don't actually need to lose a match to recognise your weaknesses.

"I don't think we did a whole lot wrong in Hong Kong but I hated the fact that we let it slip and hopefully we will take some learnings out of it -- I shall certainly be very disappointed if we don't." England beware.

A warrior on the pitch, away from the battlefield McCaw miraculously manages to keep his sanity. It is to his great credit that one of the most pressurised jobs in world sport -- you try skippering the All Blacks wi th a home World Cup around the corner -- has affected him not a jot.

Being a country boy at heart helps, as does the family propensity for coolness under fire. His grandfather, JH 'Jim' McCaw DFC, flew over 300 sorties out of RAF Tangmere and Marston in his Hawker Tempest Mk5 and towards the end of World War 2 saved hundreds of lives shooting down V2 rockets or wing-tipping them into the Channel or North Sea after he had run out of ammunition.

While McCaw is now halfway to qualifying for his Commercial Pilot's licence, it is gliding that has taken a firm grip. "There is absolutely no doubt that when I retire I will be wanting to get into competition gliding, that will be a big sporting outlet for me," he said.

"I love it when we do these big 500km flights when you have to hit various check points and turn points en route. It's a great chance to escape.

"You mix with a whole load of different blokes and when you are out gliding you don't think of rugby for a single second. You are spending the day in their world and gliding is what you talk about and enjoy. It's a complete passion and even when you are working hard to find the next thermal I find it very relaxing."

Back on terra firma, McCaw has also been spearheading, and relishing, an All Black roadshow with a twist as he visits small towns in New Zealand and challenges the locals at their speciality.

"Wood chopping -- I was no good; mind you, I was up against the world champion. Speed waitering -- no good at that either, absolutely no chance of employment. Gum boot throwing -- now we are talking, not bad at all. I adopted a discus style and did OK. Apparently I showed potential. I might get invited back to the championships next year."

It often comes as a surprise, even to New Zealand fans, that McCaw, still only 29, is completing his 10th season of international rugby. He made his debut against Ireland nine years ago this month when John Mitchell catapulted him into the team before McCaw had even started a Super 14 game.

"I couldn't eat breakfast that day, I was really nervous and didn't get a whole load of sleep the night before, but the moment I put the jersey on and stood up and heard the crowd I felt really calm, more calm than before," he recalled.

"On the field it felt great and I just got stuck in. Every time anybody asks me my greatest rugby moment and my favourite moment in a New Zealand jersey I always answer 'that first game against Ireland', because it was so very special for that reason. It's the dream coming true and the shirt that nobody can take away.

"I was only 100kg (15st 10lbs), physically I hadn't matured. It was just sheer enthusiasm and excitement that drove me then, to get out there and to give everything for the All Blacks and leave a mark."

That coltish enthusiasm has never waned and he will have no truck with anybody arguing that the demanding November Test series is an imposition for the Southern Hemisphere players at the end of a long season.


"You can look on them as hard work and a grind at the end of the season -- and our season is as long as any -- or you can treat it as a fantastic opportunity," he said.

"I love coming up here. Massive stadiums, different teams, different challenges. And for me touring in far away places representing New Zealand is a huge part of what the All Blacks is all about, it's how we started. If a guy can't get motivated by that I suggest it's pretty much time to give up. If it's a chore you are not going to do well in anything. It's not rocket science."

As for England, McCaw is wary and respectful of their potential and ability to suddenly find a surge of form and confidence: "I've never known an easy match against England and most of the matches are pretty brutal physically. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

England -- B Foden; C Ashton, M Tindall, S Hape, M Cueto; T Flood, B Youngs; A Sheridan, S Thompson, D Cole; C Lawes, T Palmer; T Croft, L Moody (capt), N Easter. Reps: D Hartley, D Wilson, D Attwood, H Fourie, D Care, C Hodgson, D Armitage.

New Zealand -- M Muliaina; J Rokocoko, SB Williams, M Nonu, H Gear; D Carter, A Mathewson; T Woodcock, K Mealamu, O Franks, B Thorn, S Whitelock, J Kaino, R McCaw (capt), K Read.

Reps: H Elliot, B Franks, A Boric, L Messam, A Ellis, S Donald, I Toeava. Ref -- R Poite (Fra)

England v New Zealand,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 2.30

Irish Independent

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