You used to hear phrases like ‘Don’t write off a Champion’ a lot. We don’t seem to hear that sort of comment or come across that sort of mentality so much these days.
Maybe it’s indicative of society that one poor performance by people in the twilight of their careers often results in people calling for their heads and wanting the younger, faster model to take their place.
That’s happening in New Zealand at the moment as two all time greats of world rugby, Richie McCaw and Dan Carter struggle with their Super Rugby form.
The fact that 2015 is a World Cup year for rugby has undoubtedly accentuated the premature reaction to McCaw and Carter’s struggles with form. In the case of McCaw and Carter the situation is even more interesting than usual because many people are prepared to write off the playing futures of two all time great rugby players in the same breath. Comments like “McCaw and Carter are past it” fail to acknowledge what the two All Black legends can still offer the Men in Black.
McCaw brings tremendous leadership value to the All Blacks just by being on the park. Oppositions respect and fear him even when he’s not at his best. He also plays in a position where New Zealand currently has very little world-class depth. Sam Cane, the next cab off the rank, has been given a tremendous opportunity to take his time establishing himself at Test level.
However, to-date when he’s been on the park he’s never been able to replicate the impact that McCaw has on matches. It’s even still debatable whether Cane will carve out a lengthy and successful All Black career.
The people who so quickly demand that Sam Cane’s form for the Chiefs in Super Rugby, and McCaw’s lack of form, should see a change in the All Blacks’ pecking order for the number seven jersey fail to acknowledge what history has proven time and time again.
There is a much better chance of an older player bouncing back to somewhere near the world-class level he’s performed at before than there is of a promising young player suddenly taking his game to a level he’s never performed at before and putting in consistent world-class performances.
Dan Carter is a different story. He’s had more serious injuries than McCaw and they’ve not only meant he has played less rugby but also that he’s looked to be a bit gun-shy in recent times. He hasn’t had the willingness to take on the line as much as he did during his prime.
His goal kicking has also been poor recently. This shouldn’t surprise people as much as it has. Compensation injuries naturally impact on the consistency of any swing (look at Tiger Woods post knee surgery for Exhibit A) and injuries will have impacted on Carter’s ability to practice his goal kicking as much as he did at the peak of his powers.
In defence of McCaw and Carter’s critics, the over-reaction from fans and sections of the media could partly be because they were so great as players in their primes and people came to expect such a consistently high level of performance from them. People need to remember that they’re not robots though.
People also need to stop making the ridiculous calls that you hear for ‘them to retire to protect their legacy’. This fails to recognise that the reason these people became great in the first place was because they thrive on competing and that before they became professionals their sport was their passion – not their profession.
The person that often springs to my mind when people talk of the need to ‘protect legacies’ is 2005 US Golf Open Champion Michael Campbell. If many New Zealanders had their way he’d have retired from golf years ago as he has struggled to produce performances anything like the one he did at Pinehurst in 2005. Numerous calls have come for his retirement despite the fact that being a professional golfer is often singled out as being the profession that most men would love to be pursuing.
History is littered with Champions that have been written off many times only for them to bounce back and demonstrate the type of traits that made them great in the first place. McCaw and Carter might not both be worthy selections for the All Blacks at World Cup time later this year, but to write them both off in April is something only a fool would do.