Greatest All Black McCaw calls it a day
Arguably the greatest rugby player in history, McCaw is now set to be a helicopter pilot
Richie McCaw always knew the perfect moment to attack the breakdown, to make a tackle or complete a pass, and the All Blacks skipper demonstrated his perfect sense of timing once again yesterday in announcing his retirement from rugby.
McCaw, who walks away as one of the game's all-time greats, ended his 14-year Test career as the most capped player (148) and captain (110) in world rugby.
The 34-year-old flanker won three World Rugby Player of the Year awards and led the All Blacks to successive World Cup victories in 2011 and this year.
McCaw's announcement came a day after Jonah Lomu's unexpected death at the age of 40 had rocked the rugby-mad country.
McCaw paid tribute to the former All Blacks winger before confirming his widely expected decision.
"I've been hugely privileged to do what I've done for so long, been in some great teams with some great men and what happened in the World Cup, everything falling into place was hugely rewarding," McCaw said.
"To finish on that note is pretty good. The last thing I ever wanted to do was limp to the end, both in form and as your body holding together.
"Sitting here today, the body would say, 'you could still play', so that means that I've got the timing right."
McCaw had done little to play down expectations he would retire after this year's World Cup, although he never explicitly said he would call it quits.
"I didn't want to make it final because I was worried the emotion might get to me in a World Cup year," he added.
"I might start thinking about 'last this', 'last that' and maybe whether I did all the things I needed to do to play my best."
McCaw's performances at the tournament were among the best of his storied career, a point not lost on coach Steve Hansen.
"His last game in the World Cup final was one of the best he played," Hansen said.
"He has been a terrific player and leader and probably the greatest we have had."
While the debate over whether McCaw is the greatest player the game has ever seen will go on, few can claim to have performed at such a high level for so long.
McCaw, who will be 35 next month, is a keen aviator and intends to pursue a post-rugby career as a commercial helicopter pilot.
"I am hugely passionate about it. It will never replace the thrill of running out in front of 80,000, but it is not far short of it," he said.
"I'm excited with what's in the future. I have enjoyed my time as a rugby player, but I am looking forward to what's coming.
"I guess it's the end of a chapter and the start of a new one. But it has been a hell of a ride."
His retirement signals the end of an era in All Blacks rugby, with six other players who have helped the side become the most successful in the sport retiring or heading offshore for lucrative contracts to end their playing careers.
McCaw joins fellow Test centurions Keven Mealamu (132 caps) and Tony Woodcock (118) in hanging up their boots, while Daniel Carter (112), Ma'a Nonu (103) and Conrad Smith (94) have also ended their New Zealand careers by joining clubs in France.
Since 2004, when those six players cemented their place in the side, the All Blacks have won 137 of 157 Tests, losing 18 and drawing two.
Under Hansen, who took over following the 2011 World Cup, they have won 49 of their 54 matches.
"He was the superstar and the way he held himself paved the way for what’s expected for the rest of the New Zealand rugby players and All Blacks who have gone since."
— Richie McCaw, paying tribute to former teammate Jonah Lomu. McCaw admitted he agonised over the timing of his retirement announcement, less than 24 hours after Lomu’s death, but decided to proceed and pay his respects
"Richie’s record speaks for itself. He is one of the all-time greats of our game and thegreatest ever All Blacks captain. for 15 years, he has been a highly respected adversary for Australian teams and is a class individual and a tremendous competitor who is deeply admired by fans and his peers."
— Australian Rugby Union chief executive Bill Pulver
"You can just seethe bruises, the scars that he wears. He came onto the scene a pretty freshfaced young New Zealander and he finishes with such an outstanding record. I do think he’s the best rugby player of all time. He’s won more trophies and medals than any other player."
— Former Wallabies flanker
"Phil Waugh Richie McCaw. One of the best ever rugby players. Hats off to an extraordinary career."
— Former Springboks flanker Corne Krige on Twitter
BY THE NUMBERS
148: Richie McCaw’s world-record number of Test caps earned from 2001 to 2015. His closest rivals are Brian O’Driscoll (IRL/ Lions, 141) and George Gregan (AUS, 139).
88.5: The All Blacks’ winning percentage with McCaw in the team. Pele’s Brazil had a winning percentage of 72.5 per cent and Shane Warne’s Australia 63.45 (in Tests).
3: World Rugby (IRB) Player of the year awards (2006, 2009, 2010). Joint record with fellow All Black Dan Carter (2005, 2012, 2015).
3: Yellow cards during his 15-year international career, despite being condemned as a serial cheat by some pundits. In comparison, Australia’s Michael Hooper, another flanker, has picked up five in 51 Tests.
2: Rugby World Cup titles (2011, 2015). Under McCaw, the All Blacks became the first team to win back-toback World Cups, capping a remarkable career.
Name: Richard Hugh McCaw
Born: Dec 31, 1980 in Oamaru, New Zealand
- Made his Test debut at openside flanker for New Zealand, aged 20, against Ireland in Dublin in 2001, and was named Man of the Match.
- Captained New Zealand for the first time in 2004, against Wales, when regular skipper Tana Umaga was rested.
- Appointed as full-time New Zealand captain in 2006 and led the All Blacks to the southern hemisphere rugby championship title. Named World Player of the Year for the first time.
- Skippered New Zealand a record 110 times in total, for a record 97 wins, 11 losses and two draws.