Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
17 August 2015
Offering Knighthoods and talk of him becoming our Prime Minister are just not fair on Richie McCaw. Back off Kiwis! And give our All Black captain room to be just that!
First things first; congratulations must go to Richie McCaw for his fantastic achievement of leading the All Blacks so superbly over his long rugby career, and especially, I feel, over the last 5 or 6 seasons. He has grown into his greatness (I see where he actually now says that himself, being a better captain now than he was in, say, 2007.)
It is my belief that McCaw's current status of playing a World Record 142 tests might not ever be passed by anyone from any country, unless it is by a hooker or halfback who get regularly subbed on and off the field and who therefore do not ever have to always play through the full 80 minute rugby torture barrier.
I suppose McCaw has been hurt in some games but I can't remember them. This we all know though; he was never subbed of before the battle had been clearly decided in favour of his All Blacks.
That he now looks like an slightly aging prize fighter, with his previous good looks now somewhat bloodied and battered. His swollen nose has some nicks and cuts. Plus some over-hanging veranda eyebrows have become testament to all those games where he was there on the field, toughing it out from go to whoa and never considering going off for an early shower.
But get this, I just don't get all this sycophancy that now surrounds our captain. And I bet you he is not impressed with it much, either.
Starting with our Prime Minister John Key who continues to behave all gee-whizz and golly-gosh when it comes to talking about McCaw. On both of New Zealand's Monday morning's shows (TV1's Breakfast and The Paul Henry Show on TV3) there was the PM, 48 hours after the 41-13 win over Australia and no doubt delighted that his questioners were not pushing too hard on affairs of state - happy to go along with any suggestions that McCaw might be offered a Knighthood 'again' or hearing again that perenial question 'is he the greatest All Black of all time.'
Frankly, it is my belief that Mr Key would have no idea of where McCaw stands in the pantheon of New Zealand's rugby story. The utterances I have read and heard from him about rugby have been hardly profound and are usually more fulsome the closer it is to the next election. The silliness continued on TV when it was suggested (seriously I have to suppose by Paul Henry) that McCaw would make an excellent Prime Minister.
McCaw from my observation is much more intelligent than that. Graham Henry, on the same morning programme, made a far better suggestion when he told Mr Henry that studying at, say, Oxford University, would be a far better option for our captain once he finishes his playing days.
(A sidebar story; There was once a rumour which raced around New Zealand that the great All Black captain of the 1960s Wilson Whineray was considering a run for Parliament. In a conversation with Wilson one time I decided to ask him outright. 'Would you like to be Prime Minister?' I said. Whineray's reply has stuck with me, 'Keith,' he came back, 'I thought you were a friend of mine!')
But back to McCaw. It's my view that the passion of an All Black victory over a badly-selected Wallaby team at Eden Park, coming so soon after a loss to a far-better selected Australian team a week earlier, is hardly the best time to judge McCaw's absolute greatness. When I came on TV1 a minute or two after the PM (today in New Zealand) and suggested McCaw's true status ought only to be debated once his time as a full test player is over, it was I thought (and modestly I hope) a far better answer.
(Can I get a job in your speech-writing or sports research department, Mr Key? Not!)
Richie McCaw to me, would rise in my estimation even more (and it is high already - don't get me wrong) if, when it is offered to him again, he declines any Knighthood talk. He does not need the bullshine that would go with the fawning; and such a label on him would not alter the place of full admiration he holds from his fellow New Zealanders, male and female, young and old.
(Not to mention any hopes he might have of winning the hand in marriage of any young Kiwi woman. 'Please marry me and automatically become Lady McCaw,' would not be fair on her to consider.)
All in all the immediate post-match chat about McCaw and his status in New Zealand's rugby and social history is, at the very least, cruelly unfair - and it is not yet necessary.
Thankfully he shows no public signs of being interested in all the accolades being heaped on him at the moment. Just continuing to be a decent Kiwi bloke has always seemed a priority for the young man from tiny Kurow.
I am sure McCaw knows that if in the tumult of a Rugby World Cup knock-out game in a few week's time and he fumbles the ball when the goal line is open ahead of him, and the scores are very close, then what is being said about him this week will very quickly fade into ancient history - and a new view will materialize with possibly vulgar words from any disappointments which will follow.
Conclusion; Of much more status to Richie ought to be the memory he can hold onto of the acclaim offered to him so warmly and big-heartedly by the 50,000 Eden Park crowd as he jogged from the park for the last time at the conclusion of his role in his 142nd test match. That thunderous acclaim was a 'thank you' on behalf of the whole country. It ought to ring in his ears forever, so generous was it for him alone. He has been a halo to our national game.
I cannot recall a cheer for a rugby hero on that famous field that was as massive; not for Colin Meads, or Bryan Williams or Jonah Lomu (though maybe Grant Elliot or Kane Williamson's cricket swipes for six to win earlier this year would have provoked an equally earthy shout of joy from a packed Eden Park?)
I loved the way this All Black team 'took out' the Wallabies so forcefully after the Sydney disaster of a week before, though in our McCaw-generated excitement we seem to have forgotten (or were not told by the always upwardly erect promotions media beforehand), that Wallaby coach Michael Cheika did some very strange things with his team selection.
For instance, why did he change the winning team from Sydney so drastically? Why did he break up his newly-found and so effective loose forward trio of Michael Hooper, David Pocock and Scott Fardy? Why also did he not have a specialist reserve halfback? And if he wanted to experiment with loose-cannon selections (sorry Quade Cooper, to New Zealanders you are one) then why not leave it till the upcoming (and easier) pre-World Cup game v USA in Chicago on September 5?
With Cavaliers players banned a very young NZ team, under their captain David Kirk, and with 11 new test players, beat France 18-9 in Christchurch.
Newport and Wales
1 international for Wales 1967
A player who is an example from rugby that because of one mistake made in one game a stigma can be attached to a name throughout a playing career.
John Jeffrey was a 22-year-old student who, in 1967, was selected for the first time to play for Wales in an important game against New Zealand.Sadly for Jeffrey he made a mistake. Early in the second half of a tension-filled game the All Blacks took a shot at goal into a howling Cardiff wind. As the kick came down short of the posts, young Jeffrey kept his appointment with destiny. He caught the ball then flung an erratic pass over his head as the All Black tacklers stormed down on him. The ball flew to open ground and a New Zealander, Bill Davis, following up quickly, dived on it to score.
Wales lost the game 6–13 and the Welsh selectors knew who to make their scapegoat. They dropped Jeffrey from their team and he was never asked to play for Wales in an international again.
Years later there were claims that Jeffrey’s play as a No. 8 was never realistically assessed; many lesser players were given better chances to prove themselves in the international arena. But it is not widely remembered that Jeffrey toured Argentina with the Welsh team in 1968. He also played for the Barbarians on tour in South Africa in 1969 and for them against South Africa at Cardiff in January 1970.
Jeffrey’s inclusion here in this listing is, perhaps, a reminder that the vagaries of selectorial whim and hasty judgments both on and off the field can make or break a rugby player, no matter how good he might be.
Who said; 'Rugby League is a simple game played by simple people. Rugby Union is a complex game played by wankers?'