Richie McCaw rediscovers his mojo
OPINION: Those sceptics writing Richie McCaw's rugby requiem should sheathe their pens after the All Blacks' skipper's dynamism in Dunedin.
Bushy eyebrows were raised last year in some sporting circles when the New Zealand Rugby Union re-signed McCaw through to the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
How in heaven's name would the former Hakataramea farm boy still be going strong 15 seasons after his test debut?
Well, after the way McCaw played against the Springboks on Saturday night no-one would bet against the Crusaders legend leading out the All Blacks in England.
He could still be playing in the No 7 jumper despite the emerging challenge of Sam Cane.
McCaw's performance was his best in a black jersey since he scored two tries in the final three minutes in Johannesburg in 2010 to give the All Blacks a stunning 29-22 win over South Africa.
We didn't see McCaw at his best in 2011 due to a chronic foot injury which required off-season surgery. He showed great bravery to play through the pain barrier and lead the All Blacks to their first World Cup victory for 24 years.
But general consensus seemed to be the imperious openside flanker of old had been usurped by Australia's David Pocock and Welsh whizz Sam Warburton as the game's foremost fetcher.
But the 31-year-old's rediscovered the old McCaw mojo this season. He's running with his former vigour, his engine is finely tuned - witnessed by his covering the width of the ground in slick time on Saturday to pressure Bryan Habana into a handling error.
His athleticism was exemplified by his grass-tip grasping of the goalkick which cannoned off the upright in the dying seconds.
McCaw has rarely had a poor game in 111 tests (73 as captain).
John Mitchell often perplexed the public with his utterances as All Blacks coach but he never said a truer word when he predicted after McCaw's man-of-the-match display on his 2001 test debut in Dublin. ''We will be seeing a lot more of this young guy in the future''.
McCaw was probably in his pomp in the 2003-2008 period when he had some of his finest games as an All Black. His rivalry with Wallaby George Smith seemed to bring out the best in him, including the 50-21 thrashing of Australia in Sydney in 2003 when the All Blacks won the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 1997. He was just as devastating in the double Bledisloe Cup successes in 2006.
McCaw was to the fore in a five-star display by an All Blacks loose forward division when he teamed with Jerry Collins and Rodney So'oialo to torment the Frenchin the record 45-6 win in Paris in 2004.
He has always relished adversity, whether it be an old-fashioned armwrestle like the Boks battle on Saturday, or atrocious weather like in Wellington against Ireland in 2008 when McCaw rolled up his sleeves and led from the front with his brilliant breakdown work, defence and ball running.
It takes a lot to upstage Kieran Read, arguably the game's greatest forward in recent years. But warhorse McCaw did just that in Dunedin. Long may he continue to grace the game.
- © Fairfax NZ News