25 Jun 2014

CORRESPONDENT

8:27 am on 25 June 2014

Richie McCaw, match-winner and many would say New Zealand's greatest-ever player, won't be the dominant figure in rugby for ever. Every star begins to fade eventually, even the best and the brightest.

Richie McCaw led the All Blacks to their second World Cup title in 2011 and has been awarded the IRB Player of the Year a record three times.

Richie McCaw led the All Blacks to their second World Cup title in 2011 and has been awarded the IRB Player of the Year a record three times. Photo: AFP

Not many players are ever in the position of McCaw, who is the true essence of an All Black, wanting to be better every time he takes the field. His leadership qualities are based around what he does, not what he says.

Many top players either head overseas when their international career appears to be at a crossroads or stand down completely.

If McCaw gets to that point, I'm sure he'll be the first to say if he's not worthy of selection.

McCaw played his first Test for the All Blacks in 2001, to the surprise of many who wondered where this kid had come from. His game against England on Hamilton on Saturday was his 127th.

In that time he has been without peer and the match-winner on more than a few occasions. Many fans would say he is New Zealand's greatest-ever player.

He became the first All Black to reach 100 Test caps and led the All Blacks to their second World Cup title in 2011, playing with a broken bone in his foot - putting him directly into legend status.

It's also been revealed he played the latter part of the England series with a rib injury, perhaps making him the modern day Colin Meads.

McCaw is regarded as one of the best openside flankers of all time. He has been awarded the IRB Player of the Year a record three times and been nominated on eight occasions.

However at 33 is he still the player he once was?

He missed a tackle in the second Test against England in Dunedin and England scored a try. Plenty of guys miss tackles, but Richie? His standards are so high that we now expect those standards from him in every game.

Remember when players out wide would avoid the turn-over king - go into a one-on-one situation with McCaw and you're going to come off second best, even if much of the opposition thought he was cheating.

Fighting for the ball is now the responsibility of the entire team and it's not just up to the guy in the number seven jersey.

Shared workload

Today's game means McCaw is now often required to be closer to the set pieces, rucks and mauls and making more tackles.

The loose forwards work as a pack and the workload can be shared with the likes of Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino.

It's that strength in the loose and the sharing of the workload that gives me confidence that McCaw will have no problems leading the side for another couple of years.

It would be easy to suggest that, given his age, McCaw should pace himself through to next year's World Cup, but he's not the sort of guy who enjoys being on the sideline or being taken off early.

And because he usually plays every minute of every game, the rest of the openside flankers get very little international experience - no rotation here.

Perhaps the biggest factor in all of this is he's still the best number seven in New Zealand, if not the world.

Sam Cane, Matt Todd and even Victor Vito can do a great job, but they're no Richie McCaw.

'Experience counts'

The All Blacks have successfully managed to get by without Dan Carter and a few other players, but in my opinion they're more vulnerable without McCaw.

Former All Black halfback Justin Marshall recently said that experience counts for so much at a World Cup and that the slower nature of that tournament will help the older brigade.

The average age of the 2011 World Cup winning side was 28, the same as it was for England in 2003.

Older, cooler heads in key positions are needed at the World Cup, and let young exciting players do their thing out wide.

The series against England hasn't really changed my view on the All Blacks or England for the next year.

I do think the All Blacks will lose a game in the Rugby Championship. Their winning streak will come to an end, in a gentle reminder of a few things to work on, and it'll be the start of another winning streak that may well take them through 2015.

Australia won the Rugby Championship in 2011 and the All Blacks won the World Cup.

England were very good in the series and their set pieces are just outstanding. They're developing the rest of their game outside that and in a year's time should be even better.

So I think England should be one of the favourites for next year's World Cup - let's put the pressure on them - but the All Blacks, led by Richie McCaw, will be there. The All Blacks know how to win.

McCaw may not be the player he once was, but he's still the best we've got and with another World Cup under his arm, wouldn't it be great to watch him ride off into the sunset at the top of his game.

It won't be up to the media to tell him it's time to go.