The Roar
The Roar


Why Richie McCaw is a great captain

Roar Pro
9th August, 2011
2085 Reads

In the last ten months much has been written about the incumbent Wallaby captain’s deficiencies. Much of it is along the lines of ‘…he couldn’t lead a team to the bathroom… we need someone like Richie McCaw!’

It is not hard to agree with this sentiment, but McCaw is a one-off so there is no place to go there.

In the heated rhetoric several names have been mooted as alternatives to the incumbent. There may be a suitable candidate among them. They all have their merits, but are they really like Richie?

No, of course not you say, that’s not what we meant. So if that isn’t what you meant, what is it? What makes Richie a great captain – one of the best ever?

There are six criteria that a player must satisfy to be a viable captain candidate:

1. Intellectual and practical intelligence (a quick, analytical, creative, action-oriented thinker)
2. Rugby specific intelligence/nous (knows all the parts; sees and understands the game as a complex system; constantly and instinctively assesses status quo (time = t) and project forward to t+1)
3. Excellent communication skills (verbal and body language)
4. An even temperament (an island of calm when all emotions are screaming fight/flight – bleeds ice-cold blood)
5. The ability to lead by example (if not consider coaching)
6. The boots must fit (when the boots don’t fit their own game suffers and no one wins – captaincy is innate)

Based on my observations, Richie McCaw, Brian O’Driscoll, and Jon Smit are the only truly superior player/captains currently on offer in elite world rugby.

While all three are getting near to their use-by dates as first-choice players, the presence of each in a match makes a palpable difference to their respective teams – even before the match begins.

Without going into the subtleties, all three have the capacity to temper and redirect the disruptive and unproductive energy spikes that occur when both good and bad things happen to them and their teammates.


If you doubt, or don’t understand this, a master class on captaincy is on offer every time the All Blacks play. First, don’t try to find Richie – when the play stops look where his teammates are looking.

He will be there. Will he be talking? Not necessarily. Will he be communicating with them? Absolutely – his body language and demeanor alone are worth thousands of words.

If Richie is on the pitch and Richie is ok, the All Blacks are ok. Richie is always ok.

Opposing teams/coaches/fans complain that Richie has too much on the refs. Rubbish. Richie is just being himself. He communicates through his body language and talks with the refs just as he communicates and talks with his teammates.

Notice I said ‘talks with’ not ‘talks to’. There is a huge difference and the result is effective communication – not just delivering messages.

McCaw, O’Driscoll and Smit have all six of the criteria well covered. That is clear whenever they take the pitch. So, if they (particularly Richie) are the models, what have we (Wallabies) got right now if we rate the four on each criterion from 0 – 10?

On this scale, 0 = Fail; 5 = Adequate; 10 = Superior (team will follow him through fire)?

Capts: Elsom (RE)– McCaw (RM)– O’Driscoll (BD)– Smit (JS)
1. Intel. RE (8) – RM (9) – BD (8) – JS (8)
2. Nous. RE (4) – RM (9) – BD (9) – JS (9)
3. Comm. RE (0) – RM (10) – BD (10) – JS (10)
4. Temp. RE (0) – RM (10) – BD (9) – JS (9)
5. L’Ex. RE (6) – RM (10) – BD (10) – JS (9)
6. Boots. RE (0) – RM (10) – BD (10) – JS (10)


TOTALS: RE(18/60 )– RM(58/60) – BD(56/60) – JS(54/60)

Nobody (here) is perfect (John ‘Perfect’ Eales for a 60/60?).

Fiddle the numbers if you will, but it appears Australia could do significantly better. All Black and Bok fans should be happy with the status quo. Wallaby partisans, how does your preferred alternative to the incumbent stack up?