Richie McCaw accepts he is no certainty of leading New Zealand's World Cup defence in 2015 but the All Black legend believes a six-month break from rugby will maximise his chances of becoming the first captain to lift the Webb Ellis Cup in successive tournaments.
Still sporting the war wounds from his latest tussle against the Springboks in Dunedin, McCaw outlined today his rationale for activating the sabbatical clause in his four-year contract as the All Blacks settle into Buenos Aires for a potentially Rugby Championship-clinching clash with Argentina at La Plata on Sunday (NZT).
After discussions with the NZRU, All Blacks and Crusaders management, the 31-year-old steps away from the sport at the conclusion of the end of year tour to Europe and takes virtual long service leave that enables him to miss three home tests against France in June plus the bulk of the Super Rugby season.
While Dan Carter exercised an identical dispensation to experience an ill-fated sojourn in French rugby with Perpignan in 2008, McCaw's absence is solely designed to refresh his physical and mental wellbeing.
Although he signed with the NZRU through to end of 2015 last year, McCaw's status and the demands of playing such a combative position for 110 tests has finally brought a realisation that he can no longer contemplate a full calendar - in 2013 at least.
"I'm pretty keen to play as long as I can especially for the All Blacks, and in New Zealand; the break will hopefully allow me to play a bit longer," he said.
"Part of it is physical, but it's also mental. Over the years I've never really had more than a couple of months off unless it's been injury-related so to be able to take a break, reassess and then play whatever time I've got left is a good opportunity."
McCaw said he started discussing managing his Super Rugby workload with Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder earlier this season and they agreed a break until the end of June would be the best method of enhancing his longevity.
"I just think this is the right time. Toddy and I sat down and tried to map out how the next few years would look."
Obviously the novelty of leading the world champions had not worn off after 73 tests in charge but McCaw was wary of his high standards dropping as age understandably impacts on his performances.
"The big thing I want to make sure is there is not a perception I'm just hanging in there and just being around for the sake of it. I still want to do it right and having that break is going to hopefully invigorate the next couple of years," he explained.
Copping a physical battering was part and a parcel of the job description and although happy to roll with the punches, McCaw said he did not want to reach the stage where preparation, playing and recovery became a chore.
"The body takes a pounding regularly but it's when you lose that desire to get yourself over that and ready for the next week, that's when you start to have enough.
"Sometimes having a break here and there reminds you how much fun it is when you put the jersey on. I still absolutely love it."
McCaw only played seven games for the Crusaders this season before they bowed out in the semifinals though that should not be construed as downtime given he was rehabilitating a foot injury.
The summer break over Christmas was also a fallacy for elite players as they were still conditioning themselves for pre-season trials at the end of January.
"For most guys it's always in the back of your mind," said McCaw, who is undecided about how to spend his R and R, though it is likely to include overseas travel.
"I haven't put a lot of thought into it but it's quite exciting to know you've got that time.
"I guess for the rest of this year knowing you're having that break means you can really enjoy what you've got left."
Kieran Read will take over the Crusaders captaincy and McCaw expects the No.8 to also inherit his role with the national side.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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