TAINE RANDELL, All Blacks captain at the 1999 World Cup, writes Richie McCaw remains the best openside flank in the world and he rates his top five in the position at the World Cup.
There has been a lot of recent speculation and some strong comments made about Richie McCaw’s form.
The criticism seems related to the fact that he was injured for a long period in the Super Rugby season and that when he came back he didn’t immediately recapture the form we all know him for.
As a result, there’s been no shortage of people suggesting father time has caught up with one of our greats.
I can’t agree.
When you judge the best No 7s in international rugby, it all comes down to what your criteria is – what you’re looking at.
David Pocock and Heinrich Brussow may be catching the eye because they grab a couple of turnovers per game and people think that’s fantastic play. They then compare that to McCaw who may only be getting one – and not in an eye-catching fashion as we’ve come to expect from him.
But that’s a superficial viewpoint. You need to look at the way the game has changed. The game for a No 7 isn’t so much about just getting those turnovers any more; it’s also about making a number of tackles, proving yourself a destructive tackler and acting as a good ball carrier.
McCaw’s game has developed to a point where his impact is not so much about getting in there and forcing those turnovers.
Given the rule changes which now favour the team with the ball, it’s a change that was inevitable.
Against Tonga, McCaw made the most tackles among the All Blacks. If you compare that to the other No 7s at the World Cup, while also taking into account how the role of an openside flanker has evolved, I still think he’s the No 1 in the world.
Pocock and Brussow’s ball carrying is non-existent compared to McCaw’s.
So ask me to rank the top openside flankers at the World Cup in order and I’d have McCaw at No 1, David Pocock as the second best, then Brussow, followed by Wales’ Sam Warburton then Thierry Dusautoir from France.
Pocock is a great player and may be the second best but he’s still got a way to go with his ball carrying.
Brussow is the typical South African openside and is probably the best at that pilfering role.
He is short, stocky and powerful and is also well complemented in that he has some big South African loose forwards to play alongside.
Warburton is the up-and-comer. He is a young man who’s still to mature physically, but he has the makings of a very good No 7 because he has a good combination of all of the requirements.
Dusautoir is more a tackler than a pilferer and has a very high work-rate.
*Randell is a columnist on www.rugbyheaven.co.nz