19 Nov 2015

Sky's the limit for Richie McCaw

6:39 pm on 19 November 2015

OPINION: One of the more famous tales of All Black lore happened in 1971, when recently retired captain (and now Sir) Brian Lochore decided to head out from his Wairarapa farm one Friday evening.

He left his wife Pam a note on the kitchen table: "Gone to Wellington. Playing test tomorrow."

Retiring All Black great Richie McCaw.

Where will Richie McCaw be in two years' time? Photo: PhotoSport

Lochore's sense of loyalty to the jersey clearly matched his commitment to brevity in communication. He had been summoned by the All Black selectors to help save a series against easily the best British Lions team to ever visit New Zealand. That couldn't possibly happen again, could it?

A photo taken 19 September 2007 shows former All Black legend, Sir Brian Lochore.

Sir Brian Lochore Photo: AFP

Today Richie McCaw, our greatest ever All Black, called full time on his unbelievable career.

Wearing a shirt pulled straight out of its packet and sporting the same haircut he's had for seemingly his entire life (in fact, the only change in style there was when he used to wear headgear for the first 20 minutes of each test before somehow losing it), McCaw told New Zealand the words we'd been expecting for about four years now.

He retires as the most capped test player of all time, with the highest number of test wins. Neither of those records will be broken any time soon, because the only other players that can break them have just retired from test rugby as well.

McCaw won every trophy going, but also something probably harder than all of them: the near-universal respect of the notoriously fickle New Zealand rugby fan. Yes, even the most nut-bar talkback caller would have a hard time admitting McCaw hasn't been absolutely incredible for all of his 14 seasons in an All Black jersey.

Mainly because, as well as mastering the role of an effective openside while being a devastating runner with ball in hand, he got the job done without any fuss.

It's hard to know what's more impressive, that he played a World Cup with a broken foot, or that he went through his entire career without really uttering anything other than the stock-standard post-match interview soundbites.

But it's not like All Black fans ever wanted him to say anything interesting, anyway. In fact, it's hard to really utter more than a couple of sentences about Richie McCaw the Human Being because, in all honesty, most of us wouldn't have a clue.

He flies gliders and helicopters, he used to go out with Hayley Holt and now with Black Stick Gemma Flynn… and that's about it.

Contrast that with the late Jonah Lomu, whose troubled upbringing, rise to fame, relationship break-ups, pink hair and ultimate health trouble that took him so young were all played out in public for all of us to watch.

It's patently inconceivable to imagine McCaw doing a tearful interview with Paul Holmes apologising to his parents for not inviting them to his wedding like Lomu did.

Now he stands, alone, on top of not just All Black but world rugby. He's indicated he'll work in aviation, concentrating first on gaining his commercial license.

McCaw's indicated he'll work in aviation, concentrating first on gaining his commercial license.

Richie McCaw, who also flies gliders, said today he planned to start a new career as a commercial helicopter pilot. Photo: PhotoSport

But you have to wonder about how a guy who has chased a ball around almost every international field in the world can just say goodbye and never play again.

The Lions will be back in New Zealand in 2017, 46 years after their dominance forced Lochore to put pen to paper to let his wife know where he had gone that night.

Who knows what a year away from the game will do for McCaw? Maybe he'll get a desperate call from the All Black selectors sometime during Super Rugby in two years' time, when our loose forwards are dropping like flies to injury.

Maybe he'll reach into his cupboard and grab his boots. Maybe he'll send a text to his girlfriend telling her he's off to Wellington.

Or maybe he won't. It's his life, after all.

Watch a few of Richie McCaw's most memorable appearances - and part of today's news conference:

The Benchwarmer's Comment logo

Jamie 'The Benchwarmer' Wall grew up in Wellington and enjoyed a stunningly mediocre rugby career in which the sole highlight was a seat on the bench for his club's premier side. He's enjoyed far more success spouting his viewpoints on the game to anyone who'll care to listen.

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