McCaw faces moment of truth
AUCKLAND, 23 Oct. - The Rugby World Cup 2011 Final will be a defining moment in Richie McCaw’s career, whether he likes it or not.
But the New Zealand captain is hoping that, win or lose, his decade-long contribution to the All Blacks' cause will be remembered for more than just one night at Eden Park.
"I know it’s got a bearing on what you’ve done," he said. "But you’d like to think the things you've done through 10 years, regardless of what happens in the Final, will mean something."
In spite of the pressure surrounding Sunday’s showdown with France and knowing the result will determine whether his legacy is that of a great All Blacks captain or a good one, McCaw would not have it any other way.
"This is the biggest game I’ve played in," the 30-year-old said. "If you’re going to pick a game before you start playing any rugby, what one would you want to play in? It would be the World Cup Final, so I look at it as exciting."
Under coach Graham Henry, McCaw has helped New Zealand claim five Tri Nations titles, whitewash the British and Irish Lions 3-0 in 2005 and win 87 of Henry's 102 Tests as coach.
Strength to strength
When McCaw leads out New Zealand against the French, it will be the 66th time he has done so since Henry first asked him to do the job in 2004. He became full-time captain in 2006.
Five years on, Henry has never had any reason to regret appointing McCaw.
"Richie has been an outstanding leader," said Henry. "He’s got all the raw ingredients to be an outstanding leader. He’s very, very bright, he’s brave and he’s talented, so not a bad combination.
"He’s a world-class player and I think being a world-class player he gains respect from that.
"He also earns his respect by the way he plays and the way he leads his team. He’s the most experienced All Black captain of all time and I think you learn from being in the job a long time and he goes from strength to strength."
McCaw believes the years of experience he has accumulated as skipper, with setbacks as important as the team's many triumphs, have allowed him to grow into the role.
"You back yourself a little bit," he said. "Just because you’re given that responsibility, just because you can play the game doesn’t mean you’re going to be any good at it. You’re going to learn a fair few lessons along the way.
Weight of expectation
"Going through an experience like ’07 and I think ’09 was a challenge as well, where we lost a few in a row, and you start to understand what you’ve got to do in those situations, you find out a little bit about yourself.
"You can either lie down or you can look at ways of improving and where you can do better. I think that’s the sort of attitude I’ve had."
While some past incumbents have struggled with the weight of expectation that comes with captaining the All Blacks, it is a responsibility McCaw has always embraced and he is hopeful that his watch will be remembered as a successful one.
"I look at it as a huge privilege," he said. "It’s a huge honour every time you take the field but you better go do the job.
"The expectation is that you set the standards that have been forged over a long period of time and I guess I’ve got to, along with the coaches, drive that and you’ve still got to go out and be a top player.
"I won’t be around forever but hopefully when I leave people will say that all the history that has gone before, all the legacies that have been set, have been upheld if not raised."