New Zealanders are generally a fairly reserved lot. Foreign visitors often remark on how ‘laid back’ and conservative we are, and how, at sporting fixtures especially, we tend to clap and quietly murmur in approval, in stark contrast to our English cousins and their ‘Barmy Army’ or the passionate cries and cheers of the Italians and French.
We rarely show emotion.
Yet, somehow, I think on Saturday night, at Eden Park, we’ll see something quite extraordinary.
Every person at the ground, every person around New Zealand watching on TVs in pubs and clubs and at home, and every rugby mad Kiwi around the world, will stand as one and acknowledge something very, very special.
For the first time in the history of the great game in New Zealand, we will finally see an All Black attaining the almost unheard of target of 100 Test matches.
31-year-old Richard Hugh McCaw will lead out the All Blacks in the Pool A decider against France and earn himself legendary status above and beyond all those before him.
In the modern age of professional rugby, some may argue that the 100 Test match target is far easier than yesteryear, as the schedule of matches is heavier now, therefore far more opportunities to play in a shorter time-frame.
This may be true to a certain extent. But the modern day player has to play in an environment of increased physical contact, in a game that has far greater and far more confrontation than the game played just 10 years ago.
Improved science around physical preparation,diet and fitness for Rugby combined with the grueling training regime of the modern player, means these men are hitting g-forces that one could only dream and shudder about several years ago.
It is staggering to see how today’s backs are bigger than yesterday’s forwards, such is the changing shape of today’s player.
That is what makes the achievement by McCaw all the more remarkable. Playing at open side flanker, he has continually put his body on the line in a position of absolute physical presence. His ability at the breakdown is still second to none and his willingness to ‘take one for the team’ has earned him the respect of his fellow teammates and the ire of opponents.
McCaw is continually targeted for the threat he is, and subsequently ends up on the receiving end of late tackles and more off the ball ‘gamesmanship’ than what others may endure.
Since his debut against Ireland in 2001, McCaw has been our first choice No. 7, and has been regarded as the best in his position for most of those years. Winning the IRB Player of the Year Award a record three times is proof of that.
100 Test matches – legendary stuff. If playing 100 Test matches and becoming the first All Black to do so, while also being the most capped All Black captain in history, isn’t enough to knight Richie McCaw, then winning a World Cup would guarantee it.
Arise, Sir Richie. We salute you.