OPINION: I have no doubts Richie McCaw can make it through till the next World Cup, but in order to stand out more - and silence some of the doubters - I reckon he needs to do less.
I know it sounds crazy, but bear with me here.
The first thing I'd say about McCaw is he's got to be judged against other players, not his own unbelievably high standards of the past. If you ask who's playing better as a No 7 in New Zealand, I don't think there is one.
Sam Cane is the guy everyone looks at, but he hasn't surpassed McCaw yet. I also like Luke Braid, but he's got similar issues to McCaw - having to do a bit too much of everything because of the Blues' inconsistent performances.
I'd like to see McCaw take less on himself. At times he spreads himself too thin. He plays loose, he plays tight, he carries, he does a bit of everything.
The core roles in my mind for a No 7 are hunting down backs, stealing ball on defence, and providing a continuity link on attack.
Think about some of the greats. Ian Kirkpatrick was at his best ranging wide, not having his time soaked up doing other guys' roles. Michael Jones pre-knee injury, Josh Kronfeld and McCaw in his prime were most conspicuous in that specialised greyhound-type role.
If they got involved in attacks it was more running off backs in support. You didn't necessarily see them trucking the ball up.
Remember Kronfeld at the '95 World Cup, cropping up in support of Jonah Lomu every time the big fella made a break?
I was lucky enough to play with Jones later in his career, but by then he'd redefined himself in that tight role as a blindside flanker. He had been an amazing athletic openside, and developed into a tremendous technical blindside. But he never tried to do both at the same time.
I asked Josh once when he felt he was at his absolute best, and he talked about when he played alongside Zinny and "Iceman", or Zinny and Mike Brewer, and said: "watch how freely I was able to roam because those guys were doing all the yards in tight."
McCaw's problem is because he's so good at everything, he ends up spreading himself too thin. He needs to delegate, and other guys have to step up and do the tight stuff.
I remember coaching a young French openside at Beziers, keen as mustard, flying round trying to do everything for everyone. We had a look at some footage, and he was continually chasing the game without actually influencing it.
I set him a couple of goals: only ever go to one ruck in two, and never overtake a team-mate to get there. Soon enough he was much more effective.
I'm sure McCaw is aware of this, and as he takes time out to heal his broken thumb might ponder it.
I'd like to see him less visible in certain parts of the game, and get back to making turnovers and popping up as a link man.
I thought George Smith did a great job of that last year when he made his comeback. He'd learned to pick his moments, and was so effective. It sounds perverse, but if McCaw's more inconspicuous he'll stand out more when he does the great things we've become used to.
Letting go and moving on at McCaw's age is much easier if there's a young, explosive option coming through and showing you the future. I had it with Dan Carter. I knew it was time to step aside.
I just don't think Richie's got that. He's one of the greatest All Blacks of all time. Until recently he's been head and shoulders above everyone; now he's just a head above.
But I back him to go through to England 2015. He's one of the hardest trainers and fittest men in the game. Now it's about being smart.
I'm sure Steve Hansen wants him there. McCaw instils confidence and desire in his team-mates because of who he is, and if you're a coach you find a way to keep those guys around as long as you can.
McCaw just needs a few more of those 'wow' moments, where you make a steal, or nail a big tackle, and everyone takes notice. They'll come if he looks to do less, not more.
Three takeaways from the latest round of Super Rugby:
1. Don't panic Chiefs fans. Perth is a rugby banana skin, and it was almost logical to take a tumble there. I don't think this says anything about title prospects, other than to remind them if their focus isn't there they'll be tipped up. Expect normal service to resume this week
2. The Highlanders are the Ireland of Super Rugby. They're achieving a lot more than their talent probably indicates. They're playing good footy, with a lot of heart, and it's getting results.
3. Rugby needs to keep scrums as a genuine contest, but some common sense is needed. There seems to be a preoccupation with making it 50-50. Next thing we'll have refs putting the bloody ball in themselves. I say go back to the good old days where the attacking team called the scrum on.
- Fairfax Media
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