Thursday 23 November 2017

Kate Rowan: Richie McCaw’s “belief” is not just advice Ireland should heed but is a life lesson

New Zealand captain Richie McCaw
New Zealand captain Richie McCaw
Richie McCaw

Kate Rowan

When attempting to predict the outcome of a rugby match, a good tip is to get to your seat in time to take in the on-pitch warm up sessions of both teams. Whichever team’s run out looked the more intense, will probably be the winner.

It is one of the best pieces of sports journalism advice I have ever been given. Almost every time, I have employed this technique it has worked. Ireland looked impressive pre-match.

So did New Zealand. However, one figure, Richie McCaw stood out. It was not for particular physical intensity of his movements but more for the deliberate and determined manner in which he went about doing his stretches, how he spoke almost coach like to teammates. This was psychological intensity.

Ireland looked so sharp but something told me the World Cup winning captain was not going to let his perfect season be ruined. These divinations were disrupted by the wonderful pageantry of the anthems and Haka.

Then green stunned black. So good were Ireland, I was focusing on their plays and tracking our players rather than thinking, “Oh wow, look at the All Blacks”, they were starting to look like any other team. Human.

When Ireland went 19-0 up. My mind returned to the determination etched across McCaw’s face in the warm up and the previous day’s captain’s run. And any time he steps on a rugby field. You do not captain your team to a Rugby World Cup win while playing on a broken foot without a certain amount of tenacity.

Sure enough, where moments before Rob Kearney had scored that stunning intercept try, the All Blacks team huddled on the try line. McCaw was doing the talking. Something about this caused thoughts of a New Zealand come back to come to mind.

Less than ten minutes later, the next try was scored by a man in black, Julian Savea.

The beginning of the resistance that would leave Irish hearts broken that will be spoken and written about for days, weeks, months, years and decades to come.

A strange almost funereal atmosphere engulfed the Irish press corps as in trooped All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen, assistance coach Ian Foster and a weary McCaw, with a freshly scarred face, still clad in his bloodied kit.

During the proceeding week, the media had seen much of McCaw with his earthy charisma. The bloodied and battered McCaw, reflecting on his coaches’ opening remarks on Ireland’s bravery seemed a world away from the sharp suited ambassadorial figure that had handed back the Webb-Ellis Cup in the same stadium less than a week earlier. This was a man who despite all his success looked shook from the heat of battle.

Much has been made by the Kiwi and Irish media alike about McCaw’s remarks about belief.

After witnessing the earlier events and how it would seem the openside played an important part in making and breaking history that afternoon, I decided to ask the question about what psychologically sets New Zealand apart from the rest of the rugby world and as their captain what makes McCaw drive that.

The words that came from his response have since been printed and spread across the internet but the raw emotion with which he delivered the answer was just as fascinating as he retold of how as a twenty year old playing for Canterbury. His then captain Todd Blackadder, who is now his head coach at Canterbury Crusaders had inspired the “belief” that has taken McCaw and his All Blacks side to iconic status.

There was something special and very human when he said, "It comes down to belief. When I was a young player and first started in the provincial game our captain taught me something pretty important," he said. "We were down by a similar margin, 29 to very little. I thought the game was over and he said 'believe', and we got home in that game.

"Forever, since then I've never, ever given up, and always been proud of All Blacks teams, that no matter whether you're behind, seemingly out of the game, you never stop believing there's a chance.”

This answer reminded me why I wanted to get involved in sports journalism in the first place. It was to experience inspirational moments. To understand what makes sporting greats tick.

We live in an increasingly cynical world where the public is becoming increasingly disillusioned by sports star’s huge wages. We can become so easily distracted by all the tweeting, advertising and marketing and forget what sport is really about. And why we still really love it.

Richie McCaw may have been talking about a “belief” that has taken him to the summit of achievement in sport but it is a universal message that no matter what you want to achieve if you “believe” and never give up when you feel as if you are 19-nil down in life as “you've got to remember while there's still time, there's still a chance.”

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