Is Richie McCaw the greatest rugby player 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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    Champion All Blanks flanker and captain Richie McCaw might just be the greatest rugby player in history.

    McCaw recently played in his 100th test win. Yes, that’s right – 100th test win. That’s not 100th test appearance, but 100th test win.

    To provide the literary equivalent of a pause while readers pondered this would require me to leave at least half a page blank. But of course that’s impractical. But consider this briefly, all the same.

    McCaw, quite incredibly, has achieved his 100 test wins out of an overall 112 tests played. That’s a winning ratio percentage (WRP) of a staggering 89.28%. In other words, he has been on the winning side in 9 out of every 10 tests he has played. Nine out of EVERY 10 tests.

    To put this in context, the Wallabies won 9 out of 10 tests in 1991 on their way to winning the World Cup. But they haven’t been able to do this consistently year-in and year-out. McCaw has.

    There are only 21 players throughout the history of the game who have reached the coveted 100 test appearances, with fellow All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu set to join this august group against the Wallabies in Brisbane this Saturday as the 22nd centurion.

    Of these players, the next most wins is by George Gregan with 93 out of 139 tests played (67.62% WRP), followed by Jason Leonard (89 out of 119, 75.63% WRP).

    Since McCaw intends to continue playing until the 2015 World Cup, injuries permitting, he is likely to set a record for most winning tests that will stand for a very long time.

    Whoever eventually beats his record, if ever, will most definitely be very, very tired! To put McCaw’s WRP in ever-more perspective, the next best WRP among the centurions is Mils Muliana with 84% in an even 100 tests. However, Mealamu’s current WRP is 85.85%.

    Of all the players who have appeared in over 50 test matches, only one player has a superior WRP, and only just. That man is yet another All Black – centre Conrad Smith – with 56 wins from 62 tests and a WRP of 90.32%.

    If there’s any doubt that NZ is consistently the best rugby team on the planet, then these stats certainly bear that out.

    Richie McCaw is no saint and I like that about him. I like my heroes to be flawed diamonds, humans, just like the rest of us.

    Even so, McCaw appears to be not only respected by his peers, but liked as well. While it seems he is also revered by the younger generation, as it should be. McCaw is the kind of guy you would like to have as a mate. At least that’s the perception.

    McCaw has been given a great back-handed compliment by Aussie rugby fans who have labelled him a serial cheat.

    There is a humorous irony in this, as any flanker worth his salt, especially an open-side flanker, must be willing to play on the edge of the law. It comes with the territory. If you’re not willing to play on the edge and occasionally over the edge, then find a less contentious position to play, like er, winger.

    Some things are in the DNA of every position. Scrumhalfs yap incessantly, wingers can’t catch, props don’t have necks and flankers cheat. That’s the way it is!

    For a long time I was unwilling to concede that McCaw was a superior player to the superbly athletic Michael Jones, but McCaw eventually wore me down, in the same way he wears down opposition flankers, flyhalfs and the referees as well! While I think Jones remains the most perfect rugby athlete I’ve seen, McCaw is probably the best-ever rugby player of all time.

    Richard Hugh McCaw was born on the last day of 1980 (which the superstitious claim is a good omen). He came from a family steeped in distinction. His grandfather was a fighter pilot during WW2, credited with shooting down 20 V I missile rockets in the last year of the war. McCaw developed a love of flying from his grandfather and is a qualified pilot.

    McCaw made his test debut late in 2001 against Ireland. He was embroiled in controversy early in his career when he wrestled a South African spectator, who had come onto the pitch in Durban to harass Irish ref David McHugh, to the ground in 2002.

    As mentioned earlier, McCaw is far from perfect. His captaincy during the World Cup quarter-final against France in 2007 was a low point, when he along with his team mates, appeared to be bereft of ideas and they subsequently lost.

    But he has learnt from his mistakes to become a clever and inspirational leader. During the 2011 World Cup tournament, won by the All Blacks, McCaw inspired his team mates and the nation, playing on virtually one leg after suffering a debilitating ankle injury.

    I have been following rugby for about 45 years. Richie McCaw is the best open-side flanker I’ve seen in that time, while his phenomenal win-loss record alone suggests he might also be the best player in any position in history.

    As for best captain, I will reserve judgement for the time being. But it’s fair to say he’s up there among the best leaders.

    > Sheek’s writing: Sheekabout.com.au

    A former rugby lock, cricket no.11 bat and no.10 bowler, and surfboat rower. A fan of the major team sports in Australia.

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    The Crowd Says (185)

    • October 18th 2012 @ 7:51am
      Johnno said | October 18th 2012 @ 7:51am | ! Report

      Jonah Lomu “there has never been a player before or since like him. Not even remotely similar, on body shape or size. A big man of lomu’s size with pace there has not been any player in rugby league or rugby union with this attributes like Lomu. He was unstobballe and so big and strong. 4 tries against top quality opposition England in 1995, and he dominated scotland to and the 1995 wallabies. Such a power house.

      Also Colin Meads and the never ending Micheal Jones VS Mcaw argument. I was always a massive ripen thau thau fan too. And christian cullen, and also Dan Carter has to be right up there too. Brian Lima for me was amazing. SOme may laugh but there has never been a more lethal 1 on 1 defender than Brian Lima. He was not nicknamed the chiropractor for nothing. Micheal Jones who went on to coach Samoa and played with Brian Lima to until he retired said in an interview there has never been a more mentally strong and courageous player he has seen than Brian Lima. Like a steve Matai defender or the human skewer Ille Tabua they all smash you every time. But Lima had a good running game too. He played in 5 world cups amazing form 91-2007 for Manu Samoa, and was a star at the Auckland blues in super rugby titles under Ted.
      And Brian Lima is the only player 1 on 1 I have seen smash Jonah Lomu in a match was memorable stuff, some of his hits check out the 2003 world cup ouch. And he had a great running game , so when ex team mates and coaches of the level of Micheal Jones say Brian Lima was the mentally toughest and courageous player he played with and has never seen a player like him it is amazing wrap. Lima is in the IRB hall of fame, and received big money offer from the NRL in the 90’s almost went to the North sydney Bears but stayed in rugby. He is a national hero in Samoa most capped player and most famous with Micheal Jones, and in Auckland Brian Lima.

      Also it may surprise some but Brad Thorn is awesome he has been a colussus he has to be looked at. He was phenomenal these last 4 years for the All Blacks. He would of been massive loss last world cup just as much as Dan carter, Thorn got injured lucky he didn’t he was awesome in the final as was Theirry Dussatoir who is phenomenal player too as good as I have seen. Thorn is toughness, hard as nails personified.

      • Roar Guru

        October 18th 2012 @ 8:07am
        sheek said | October 18th 2012 @ 8:07am | ! Report

        Gidday Johnno,

        All great players here that you mention, no doubt about it.

        I especially agree about Brad Thorn. He is definitely the kind of guy you would want with you in the trenches.

        • Roar Guru

          October 18th 2012 @ 1:43pm
          Phil Bird said | October 18th 2012 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

          Brad Thorn – rated ‘by far the most valuable player’ in the world cup winning side last year. i think rated by Steve Hanson… or Graham Henry I can’t recall which coach it was

      • October 18th 2012 @ 8:16am
        Darwin Stubbie said | October 18th 2012 @ 8:16am | ! Report

        Do the pubs stay open 24 hours a day where you are ?

      • Roar Guru

        October 18th 2012 @ 10:41am
        KiwiDave said | October 18th 2012 @ 10:41am | ! Report

        As good as Lomu was as an offensive weapon, he was one of the worst All Black wingers on defense I can remember. He wasn’t quite the complete player because of this. For me, I reckon Dan Carter is better than Richie McCaw but marginally only.

        • October 18th 2012 @ 1:39pm
          Snobby Deans said | October 18th 2012 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

          Not sure that comparing a forward and a back is apples-for-apples enough to be a real comparison, KD.

        • October 18th 2012 @ 7:19pm
          Chivas said | October 18th 2012 @ 7:19pm | ! Report

          A little harsh.. His technique might not be text book, but for a guy at 118kg’s who could run the 100m in 10.8 seconds and afraid of nothing, he worked very hard on his defence and more than coped. He was worth more than he cost in any game.

        • October 22nd 2012 @ 12:33pm
          rae1 said | October 22nd 2012 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

          Agree about Lomu,defensively he was found wanting.As for Dan and Richie I believe its a draw purely because their roles within the team are so different.Dan is more finesse rather than physicality,however they are both great at what they do.

      • October 18th 2012 @ 10:47am
        Colin said | October 18th 2012 @ 10:47am | ! Report

        Lomu: “He was unstobballe and so big and strong.”

        I’ll never forget the sight of Joost Vd Westhuizen – the smallest player on the field – taking him down in a head on tackle underneath the South African goalposts in the 1995 World Cup final (and as far as I am aware, he wasn’t one of the players who had stomach problems). So, I would suggest, definitely stoppable.
        Brand Thorn and Richie McCaw both leave a far greater legacy than Jonah.

        • October 18th 2012 @ 2:06pm
          Justin2 said | October 18th 2012 @ 2:06pm | ! Report

          Joost was a much bigger man than most think…

          • October 18th 2012 @ 3:12pm
            Mals said | October 18th 2012 @ 3:12pm | ! Report

            Yep 6 foot 1 inch. That ain’t small!

            • October 18th 2012 @ 3:28pm
              Chris said | October 18th 2012 @ 3:28pm | ! Report

              Well I can recall Gregan tackling Lomu many times. He was small.

              • October 18th 2012 @ 4:39pm
                Jutsie said | October 18th 2012 @ 4:39pm | ! Report

                He was small but he was bloody tough. I remember reading that out of all the wallabies he could bench press the most times his own body weight.

              • October 18th 2012 @ 7:30pm
                Chivas said | October 18th 2012 @ 7:30pm | ! Report

                Hard to know. I actually thought Ben Tune was the best and most consistent defender in a one on one with Jonah. His pace, accuracy and lines were immense. He also tackled low, which only works with pace and accuracy.

                Anyway IMO he nullified Jonah as well and in most cases better and more consistently than anyone else.

              • Roar Guru

                October 18th 2012 @ 8:04pm
                biltongbek said | October 18th 2012 @ 8:04pm | ! Report

                It was really Joost v d Westhuizen who showed how to tackle Jonah Lomu.

              • October 19th 2012 @ 7:52am
                Riccardo said | October 19th 2012 @ 7:52am | ! Report

                I agree Biltong.

                One of the greatest half backs to ever grace the game.

                An absolute Lion in defence and an integral cog in the Springboks 1995 victory.

                How is he progressing in battle with ALS?

        • October 18th 2012 @ 3:48pm
          Jerry said | October 18th 2012 @ 3:48pm | ! Report

          “the smallest player on the field”

          Given Andrew Mehrtens and Graeme Bachop were on the field, I don’t think that’s true.

      • October 18th 2012 @ 7:04pm
        Chivas said | October 18th 2012 @ 7:04pm | ! Report

        Just for the record Richard Turner, the north harbour no. 8 put the best tackle on Jonah. Jonah at full speed down the middle of the park. Turner hit him in the midriff, picked him up and smashed him on his back. Jonah was down for a good 5 – 10 minutes. Two big men. Never seen a tackle like it before or since!

        Looked for it on you tube many times, but I can’t find any recording. Frano said in an interview best tackle on a big man he has ever seen too. I was at NH stadium that day and I don’t remember the score, but I remember the hit. Great memory.

        And Jonah may not have been the best defensively, but he was worth 17 points in most games, scoring, drawing in defences and 100% commitment. He never shied from running at full speed into anything including a large Tongan defence. Best player of all time, don’t know. Most destructive, without a doubt!

        • October 18th 2012 @ 7:24pm
          RebelRanger said | October 18th 2012 @ 7:24pm | ! Report

          You from the Shore?

          • October 18th 2012 @ 7:34pm
            Chivas said | October 18th 2012 @ 7:34pm | ! Report

            No, grew up in Putaruru and went to Uni in Hamilton, before moving to Auckland in the late 80’s and on to Sydney about 8 years back.

            Mooloo ole ole ole 🙂

        • February 21st 2013 @ 8:13pm
          shelley said | February 21st 2013 @ 8:13pm | ! Report

          That turner hit has passed into mythology. I’ve never seen it but I remember a mate coming back from the game and talking about it in hushed tones.

    • Roar Guru

      October 18th 2012 @ 7:53am
      Who Needs Melon said | October 18th 2012 @ 7:53am | ! Report

      100% with you sheek. I think you will find Oz have beaten McCaw 5 times, the Boks 5 times and 1 each to France and England. Quite remarkable. And the lows – and how he has learnt from them – are what defines him too.

      I don’t know what his winning % is with the Crusaders – it wouldn’t be quite so high but it would still be pretty darn good. When you add up all the games this guy has played, he has spent so much time on a rugby pitch and been in so many situations, he would definitely be my first pick in constructing a dream team.

      • Roar Guru

        October 18th 2012 @ 3:15pm
        Wal said | October 18th 2012 @ 3:15pm | ! Report

        I may not be that far off, the Crusaders have averaged a 73% win ratio since Richies debut, he has missed a number of matches due
        to reconditioning, concussion etc.
        He has played in 103 of the 141 matches since his debut, the Crusaders have coincidentally won 103 of those matches as well.
        My very unscientific memory says they have struggled without him at times so may well be in the 80%’s.

        Throughout his career he hasn’t had to face defeat to often considering the number of games he has played

    • October 18th 2012 @ 7:54am
      mania said | October 18th 2012 @ 7:54am | ! Report

      mccaw best attribute is he learns from his mistakes. richie keeps reinventing his game each year making himself better and better. these last few years i’ve been amazed expecting his star to wane but he comes back smarter and harder.
      king richard lion heart mccaw. best player i’ve ever had the privledge of watching

      • October 18th 2012 @ 9:44am
        WQ said | October 18th 2012 @ 9:44am | ! Report

        mania, I don’t know that he has adapted to many flaws in his game as I genuinely don’t believe there has ever been to many.
        He has however adapted to the way opposition Teams have targeted him and also the way Referee’s have interpreted the break down. He even has the ability to do this on a game by game basis.
        This skill has I believe been the single biggest reason for his high level of performance over such a long time. Very few others have been blessed with this ability.

        • October 18th 2012 @ 10:24am
          mania said | October 18th 2012 @ 10:24am | ! Report

          WQ – didnt say he had many flaws.
          agree his adaptation abilities is amazing. yes agree he can change tactics mid game and be uber effective.
          big error he made in france 07 was not getting in the refs ear. since then he’s become awesome at managing the refeee and keeping a mutually respectful line of communication open.
          i remember one game where the ref was threatening yellow cards to rocky elsom and co. richie approached the ref (kaplan i think) and the ref said something like “and i especially dont want to talk to you”
          where richie replied “i just wanted to know if theres anything you want to say to us” the ref lost his temper and chilled out after that.

          • October 18th 2012 @ 2:36pm
            WQ said | October 18th 2012 @ 2:36pm | ! Report

            He certainly has added the art of Referee manipulation to his bag of tricks. He is masterful at this as well, when he notices the Referee has applied a rule incorrectly, he does not complain he just goes and asks for an interpretation of the rule and then wonders off with a strange look on his face. The Ref knows that he made a mistake and he also knows that McCaw is on to him so nothing else needs to be said, very clever. I wonder how many times the next 50/50 call has gone the way of the All Blacks as the Ref tries to balance the equation in his own mind?

      • Roar Guru

        October 18th 2012 @ 1:40pm
        Phil Bird said | October 18th 2012 @ 1:40pm | ! Report

        i love this guy as much for what he doesn on the field as off.

    • October 18th 2012 @ 7:58am
      Tissot Time said | October 18th 2012 @ 7:58am | ! Report

      Sheek like you I have been watching test match rugby since the mid 60s and he is the most complete flanker I have seen play. I read his book cover to cover on returning home last week. What I take from his biography is his desire, immaculate and relentless preparation, ownership for the captaincy and leadership after 2007, a receptiveness to evolve, high personal fitness standards and a recognition of the importance of timing at the breakdown. Yet above all he is a normal bloke.

      A resounding yes from me.

      • October 18th 2012 @ 8:06am
        Tissot Time said | October 18th 2012 @ 8:06am | ! Report

        And surfing a wave at 20000 feet is also impressive!

    • Roar Guru

      October 18th 2012 @ 8:08am
      sheek said | October 18th 2012 @ 8:08am | ! Report

      Melon/Mania/Tissot,

      Thanks for adding your thoughts to the McCaw legacy.

    • October 18th 2012 @ 8:19am
      Darwin Stubbie said | October 18th 2012 @ 8:19am | ! Report

      Can’t be any doubt really .. The bloke just seems to get better year on year

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