Richie McCaw, the record-breaking All Black captain who is attempting to become the first man to lead his country to successive world titles, will not entertain talk of retirement – perhaps because he knows that every other player in the international game wishes he had retired already.
New Zealand are a difficult enough proposition at a global tournament without the added emotional charge of giving their brightest and best a proper send-off.
Few people in the game seriously doubt that at 34, the open-side flanker from Oamaru is preparing to call it a day. A fat one-season contract with one of northern hemisphere rugby’s powerhouse clubs may yet tempt him into another few months of hard yakka.
Toulon, the three-time European champions, are frequently spoken of in this connection but the smart money, as opposed to the heavy money, is on him treating the forthcoming competition as a last hurrah.
“I haven’t made a final decision yet, although I’ve given a reasonably strong hint,” he said yesterday. “Whether I play much more past this year is pretty debatable, but the reason I haven’t made any announcement is that I really want to play now, in this tournament, as if I were going to continue.
“I want to make sure that when I turn up for training, I train to be better than I was the week before. If you keep that attitude, you keep performing. I think that’s an important part of being an All Black.”
McCaw talks about people “reading between the lines” on the subject of his impending farewell, but there was little doubt as to the mood of the occasion when he led the reigning champions to a startlingly comprehensive 41-13 Bledisloe Cup victory over the Wallabies in Auckland a few weeks ago.
The Eden Park crowd had given the skipper dozens of ovations down the years, but this one had a resonance that suggested they did not expect to see him again.
New Zealand begin their title defence at Wembley in six days’ time, against Argentina. Four years ago, the South Americans gave a magnificent account of themselves in a quarter-final against the All Blacks, but still lost 33-10. McCaw? He played all but two minutes of that game while struggling with a busted bone in his foot.
He did not get where is today by underestimating opponents – indeed, he may be the last player on earth to give a sucker an even break – so it was hardly surprising to hear McCaw butter up the Pumas.
“The two sides obviously know each other well because we’ve been meeting twice a year in the Rugby Championship,” he said. “If you look at the result they had in South Africa recently, they did pretty well. It’s a difficult start for us.”
Difficult, but not life-threatening. The All Blacks will expect to win Sunday’s opener with a little to spare, even though the expectation from outside the team – the “stadium of four million”, as they refer to the rugby-loving population back home – will take some handling.
As per usual, McCaw flatly refuses to buckle under its weight. “That type of expectation is what has driven the All Blacks to keep training hard and give of their best,” he said. “If it can be rough at times, it’s just part of being an All Black and I’d hate for it to change. It’s what you want as a New Zealand player. If you don’t want to do it, there’s someone else who does and will fill your spot. I see the pressure as a positive.”Reuse content