McCaw can't escape limelight in Scotland

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 05/11/2012
Richie McCaw
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MANAGING EXPECTATIONS: All Blacks' captain Richie McCaw.

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Richie McCaw and his leadership skills have taken centre stage in Edinburgh and not just because his autobiography will hit bookstores in Britain this week.

The All Blacks captain's future, both short and long-term, is already providing an intriguing backdrop to the northern tour.

The influential openside will likely start against Scotland at Murrayfield next Monday but is expected to be rested against Italy in Rome a week later.

Sam Cane is being groomed as his backup at No 7 but it's a mark of the man that McCaw's leadership has become equally as valuable as his play - far greater than the £15 (NZ$29) price tag on his book.

The Cantabrian has stepped into a rare space after seven years at the helm. His influence and mana have become immeasurable in the wake of the World Cup.

He has played all 10 tests this year and been replaced once - by Cane - in Argentina.

McCaw struck an uncomfortable figure yesterday at times as his captaincy and the potential changeover were discussed at length. No doubt, the skipper would prefer the focus to be on the team rather than himself as the tour begins.

However, a stack of books with his mug on the front made the topic hard to ignore at the team hotel yesterday where All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, McCaw and Conrad Smith fielded questions.

The biggest one was: what happens when McCaw doesn't play? Hansen doesn't plan to wait until next June to find out, when his skipper takes a six-month sabbatical, and it was revealed yesterday that the gradual transfer of the leadership has been going on all year.

That has presumably involved heir apparent Kieran Read.

The No 8 is a loose forward sculpted from the same unrelenting mould and driven by the same desire to be a great All Black, or GAB as McCaw often writes in his Warwick 2B4 before matches.

But Read is not there yet and has a hard act to follow. McCaw's leadership will be put to a special test over the next fortnight.

His first task will come naturally as he prepares his charges for the opening test and sets the standards and expectations for the tour.

Assuming he sits out the Italy test, McCaw will then face the more unusual challenge of stepping back for whoever is named captain in his absence and trying not to step on their toes.

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