OPINION: Veteran coach Colin Cooper summed it up best after Taranaki's brutal 18-9 Ranfurly Shield win over Canterbury.
"We were superbly led," he said, after his side saw off their sixth challenge for the famous Log o' Wood.
The weekend was highlighted by two great leaders - Taranaki's Craig Clarke and All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw.
The two men display all the characteristics of great leaders, not just in their on-field performance but also the standards they set off it.
There was much talk about the demotion of in-form All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith to the bench for his breach of team protocols in the week leading up to the test against the Springboks. While All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was economical with the details around Smith's indiscretion, no-one was prepared to question McCaw about it after it was discovered the protocols are set by his leadership group.
McCaw has earned the right not to be questioned in some of the decisions he makes because he has been a peerless leader at international level over the past couple of years.
I still feel disappointed by McCaw's decision not to accept a knighthood after the Rugby World Cup because if anyone deserves to be called "sir" on a rugby field, it's him.
Case in point, Saturday night when McCaw was the beacon of light in a muddled performance from the All Blacks.
His ability to take so much punishment and still be leading the way when opposition lungs are burning at the end of the match sets him apart.
If that is not enough, then his reaction after taking another cheap shot - this time from brain-dead Springboks monster Dean Greyling - was another example of his class.
Prone on the ground, McCaw did not retaliate when Greyling flew in with a forearm to his face. The All Blacks skipper simply turned to the assistant referee to ensure he was watching.
It was a turning point in the rather dour test and one that served to help the All Blacks finish off an otherwise brave Springboks outfit.
While Clarke might not be able to deliver the super-human deeds of McCaw on the playing field, he is peerless in the NPC as a leader for the standards he sets. You only have to hang around a few Taranaki training sessions to pick up on his influence.
He is not a dictatorial leader, either. Instead, he chooses his words carefully, all the while keeping a calmness about him that is infectious to team-mates.
Consider the way a number of young players have been brought into the Taranaki environment and have performed.
These newcomers often comment on how much confidence Clarke, along with Cooper and assistant coach Leo Crowley, instil in them because they understand the pressures involved for these young men who are starting out in what is a pretty cut-throat industry.
Clarke, along with Cooper, has also put a lot of pride back into Taranaki rugby after a few years when on and off-field performances were hurting the union.
Hopefully, when All Blacks coach Steve Hansen finally gets over his loyalty to Ali Williams, Clarke can be picked for their end-of-year tour.
His form warrants it, even though he still has critics who I will label as simply ill-informed.
As well as being a lineout supremo, Clarke is one of the strongest scrummagers in the country. If you don't believe me, ask any frontrower who has had the pleasure of standing in front of him at scrum time.
His cleanout work is also exemplary, while he makes more tackles than most second rowers.
It's a pity the All Blacks no longer turn out for midweek matches on tour because Clarke would be an ideal candidate to lead them.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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