McCaw is one of the five greatest All Blacks ever

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New Zealand captain Richie McCaw (left) and coach Graham Henry hold the Rugby World Cup. AAP/NZN Image/SNPA, David Rowland

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Has there ever been a rugby player who has tormented Australia as much as Richie McCaw? I was contemplating this question today when I realized that not only was the answer no, but the answer was no by a good margin.

Richie has been playing international rugby since 2003, and Australia has not won a Bledisloe Cup from 2003 onwards.

His performances read like an endless list of tormenting moments.

I recall a period in 2005 where pressure was put on Eddie Jones to play George Smith AND Phil Waugh, with the sole purpose of stopping Richie McCaw.

In 2006 we all recall how Stirling Mortlock made an incredible break and passed the ball to Mark Gerrard, Richie McCaw ran him down, made an awesome tackle, slid to his feet, and ripped the ball away. It’s been compared to the Gregan tackle.

In 2008, George Smith was Australia’s Super 14 Player of the Year, and enjoyed one of his greatest performances against New Zealand in Sydney. McCaw didn’t play.

Confidence was high as Australia travelled to New Zealand, but King Richie was there to destroy Australia. The performance of McCaw lifted New Zealand to such an extent they won 40-15.

McCaw, hands down, outplayed George Smith.

There was a brief period from 2008-2009, before Kieran Read came into the squad and supplanted Rodney So’oialo, where the All Blacks were heavily reliant on McCaw.

One All Black fan I know went on a rant that a rugby country as great as New Zealand shouldn’t be that reliant on McCaw.

There were many poor, poor performances from New Zealand during this period, which people forget about. But these performances were primarily due to McCaw’s absence. Their backrow was so ineffective without him.

Without McCaw, the All Blacks backrow had less direction.

You could make a list of moments where McCaw utterly tormented Australia. I think right at the top of the list would be the 2010 Sydney Test, where Australia lost its 10th Test in a row.

Pocock had a wonderful first-half, and did more in the match with regards to pilfering the ball. But McCaw and Reid came back in the second half with some incredible ball carries. I hadn’t seen McCaw play that role much before, but it demonstrated that the new rules hadn’t affected his game.

It was an example of McCaw reinventing himself, and finding a new way (any way) to be effective and exploit Australia. The Wallabies prevented him from dominating in his usual way, so he just found another way that was just as good.

It was a game where one man just wouldn’t accept defeat, and there was nothing you could do about it. Admittedly the Wallabies played poorly at times in that Test, but McCaw’s fight was incredible.

The Test ended with a terrific tactical kick from Carter that didn’t go into touch. The Wallaby outside backs were put under pressure, the All Black back row ran over the top of them, and a penalty was given. Australia lost 19-18.

McCaw and Carter are the Warne and McGrath of rugby union. Australia had Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Gilchrist etc, just as the All Blacks have had Hayman, Muliaina, and Woodcock. But there’s a crux to each side, and without it teams tend to struggle.

After the 2005 Ashes Cricket Series I began to savour watching Shane Warne. He really had nothing to prove.

He came back from suspension in 2004 and was Man of the Series in Sri Lanka, taking 26 wickets.

Then in 2005 he gave us perhaps the most lasting sporting memory of his career – his one man performance against England.

Australia lost the series, but I felt Warne had done everything in his career at that point. He had nothing left to prove. Perhaps you could nit-pick and say he could have performed against India, but that’s it.

From then on in, watching Warne was more about pleasure for me. He would always go down as one of the greatest, and nothing he could do after that would make him greater.

That’s how I feel about Richie McCaw. He’ll continue to pester Australia, but there’s not much in the future he can do, other than win Tests, which will add to what is as close to a perfect legacy as I may ever see in rugby.

What more can a rugby player achieve?

He’s won the Grand Slam twice, captained a side to the World Cup, won the Bledisloe Cup every year he’s played (including that annoying 10 Test streak), won the Tri Nations almost every year (three years excluded – 2004, 2009, and 2011),clean-swept the British and Irish Lions in 2005 and has a winning record, as a player, that’s almost incomparable.

In a country that’s produced great players like Ken Gray, Colin Meads, Sir Brian Lochore, Kel Tremain, Ian Kirkpatrick, Sid Going, George Nepia, Sean Fitzpatrick, Zinzan Brooke and Michael Jones, really only Meads has a better legacy, doesn’t he?

Can anybody list why these players are greater than McCaw?

Like Meads, Sean Fitzpatrick has got a comparable legacy to McCaw – a World Cup (1987), the first series win in South Africa, a Lions series victory etc.

But McCaw’s legacy is comparable to Fitzpatrick’s, and possibly even Meads’!

McCaw is one of the five greatest All Blacks ever. I’m calling it.

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