Rugby: Fitzy gracious as record set to fall

Sean Fitzpatrick
Sean Fitzpatrick
Being satisfied with second best was a trait you would never associate with Sean Fitzpatrick during his decorated All Black career.

But one of New Zealand rugby's iconic figures accepts this demotion is inevitable - when the All Blacks play Ireland in Dublin next weekend he most likely no longer will be the country's most capped test player.

Richie McCaw and Mils Muliaina join him on 92 tests at Murrayfield on Sunday (NZT) when New Zealand attempt to clear the Scottish obstacle of their Grand Slam tour.

Fitzpatrick, baptised as a "Baby Black" against the French at Christchurch in 1986, ended his test career in 1997 and subsequently watched on proudly as McCaw and Muliaina have grown to match his longevity.

"I couldn't think of two better people than Richie and Mils to beat my record," he said.

"They are outstanding All Blacks, good leaders of men and for me it's an honour to pass the baton on to those two."

Fitzpatrick was manager of the New Zealand under-21 side in 2000-01 when McCaw and Muliaina were in the team and realised then the openside flanker was destined for a prolonged international career.

"I said to Richie at the time that I would love you to beat my record as the most capped All Black ever - we joked about it then and now it's going to happen."

McCaw captained the side for the first time at Cardiff in 2004 and succeeded Tana Umaga on a permanent basis when the centre retired after the 2005 Grand Slam tour.

He eclipsed Fitzpatrick's record of 51 tests as captain in September against the Wallabies in Sydney, a contest Fitzpatrick said personified McCaw's mana and coolness under pressure.

The All Blacks fought back from 9-22 inside the final 10 minutes to snatch a one-point victory, thanks in part to McCaw's try from an admittedly dubious scrum move.

The last-gasp 29-22 win in Soweto, where McCaw also contributed a vital late try, also resonated with the former hooker.

"Richie is just leading by example, with the way he has captained the team this year, especially in the tests in Soweto and Sydney," he said.

McCaw said it would be an honour to eventually surpass Fitzpatrick.

"I was at secondary school when he was playing in his prime, I used to watch with awe," he said.

"You always knew when he was out on the field."

The pair meet intermittently, they had a brief catch-up before the Soweto test against Springboks in August.

"He's a good man to have a yarn to, we've been through a fair few similar experiences," McCaw said.

All Blacks coach Graham Henry, who coached Fitzpatrick at Auckland and the Blues, reckoned his former and current captain were cut from the same black cloth.

"They're very similar characters, they are very focused in being the best they can be and they work particularly hard to achieve that," Henry said.

"Fitzy's a special character. He's one of the great All Black captains.

"He was respected by the rest of the (rugby) world. He was a colossus really.

"It was just a pity his knee gave way and he had to give the game away because no doubt he would have played 100-plus test matches."