John Mitchell selected Richie McCaw in a Test match in 2001 before the flanker had played a Super Rugby game. The Former All Blacks coach explains what sets McCaw apart from the rest.
McCaw has won 17 out of 22 Tests against the Springboks. He has won 25 and drawn one against the Australians in 31 Tests. He has lost twice in nine Test against England and once in 12 Tests against France. He has never lost to any other country. In 120 Tests, half of them played away from home, McCaw has lost just 13 in 120 Tests and won nine Bledisloe Cups, three Grand Slams, seven Tri Nations trophies, two Rugby Championship titles and the 2011 Rugby World Cup. He has also won five domestic titles with Canterbury and four Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders.
He was brilliant against the Boks at Ellis Park, in his first Test at the famous ground.
Mitchell, in his column on SARugbymag.co.za, wrote the following:
‘There are many aspects of his game that separate him from the rest, starting with his physical capacity – that is his aerobic and anaerobic capacity. When I was coaching the All Blacks, I remember a 106kg McCaw doing a 3km time-trial in about 10 and a half minutes. In his repeat speed test of 10 x 40m, he had only a drop-off of around 6% on every 30 seconds.
‘He is 1.87m tall, with long levers. His decision-making on defence at the front and back end of the breakdown is superb. He gets on the potential wrong side of law by getting there early and keeping his feet for as long as possible. He also gets his body in the perfect position before the ruck is formed. He has evolved his breakdown work as the law interpretations have changed, and learned to put up with taking physical hits off the ball as well as the pressure put on him by opposition coaches and the media, who have suggested he cheats at the breakdown.
‘McCaw has also developed his lineout capability, his handling has improved, and when he carries the ball his shoulder is always ahead of the ball. I remember his first carry in his first Test against against Ireland in Dublin in 2001, when he was 20 years old. He knocked on, and for a moment I thought we may have selected him too early in his career. But we went on to win 40-29 and McCaw was named Man of the Match!
‘He also has mental toughness that allows him to dig deep when the momentum is against his team, and his calmness in preparation and performance is transferred to his team-mates.
‘McCaw knows he will be at the ball from the first phase in attack and defence, and this is something he thrives on. He loves every contest, never gets frustrated and communicates effectively during the game.
‘Then there’s his professionalism. He always makes sure that he and the team have prepared properly, and asks the right questions (something which was evident right from his first tour to the UK and Ireland).
‘McCaw also clearly knows how to get the balance right between rugby and his life away from the game. He is a qualified pilot and loves flying, and I have seen him play the bagpipes too!
‘He is a genuinely good bloke who is very gifted in many aspects. He has maximised his talent and fulfilled his dream of not just becoming an All Black but a great All Black. The next moment defines you and nothing else matters.
‘Well done, Richie. You are immense.’