Rugby: Is the end nigh?

Richie McCaw
Richie McCaw
He is our captain, and already an All Blacks great. When he retires, he may be considered the greatest of all. But Richie McCaw is not getting any younger. He is in the middle of a long break, and it is impossible to say whether his motivation to continue will be as strong when he returns. Rugby writer Steve Hepburn ponders the McCaw issue.

Those with Sky Television may have caught the documentary The Weight of a Nation recently.

It documents the path of the All Blacks in winning the Rugby World Cup in their own country.

It is not a bad waste of two hours about something that has received more coverage than a Royal wedding.

One thing that came through was the impact of captain Richie McCaw.

Former All Blacks coach Graham Henry says without his skipper, the side probably would not have won the Webb Ellis Cup.

Big call. And that leads to the question: Is McCaw almost undroppable now? Has he got to the stage where he is simply irreplaceable? Just seen as too good, and too much of an icon, by too many people, to ever be shown the door, until he decides to walk into the sunset on his own terms? Before anyone gets up in arms, bear with me.

There is no suggestion McCaw is over the hill at the moment. He has just won the player of the year award and was one of the All Blacks' best, if not the best, this season.

He has developed into a once-in-a-generation player, perhaps the greatest All Black in history.

But Father Time stops for no man.

One just has to look at Indian cricket for an example of the pickle in which New Zealand rugby could get itself.

Indian master batsman Sachin Tendulkar is 40 in April. He is a great batsman but for many, that statement should be in past tense.

In 14 test innings this year, his highest score has been 80, and he has only one other 50. He averaged less than 19 against England in the recent series, which India lost.

Many are calling for Tendulkar to go. But he is still worshipped in India and appears to be calling the tune on his retirement.

The Indian cricket selectors seem afraid to drop him. It is all well and good for Tendulkar but when he is not performing and neither is the team, how long can he stay in the side? Another great cricketer, former Australian captain Ricky Ponting, heard the death knell ringing and jumped before he was pushed, going out in a losing effort against South Africa.

Ponting was a great cricketer but probably held on a year or two too long.

Let's make it clear: McCaw is nowhere near that territory yet. He is still far and away the best No7 in the country and the best captain of our national side.

But he is about to take six months off and it is going to be interesting to see how he returns from that break.

He may be Captain Marvellous but he is still human.

McCaw has been playing top-level rugby for more than 12 years. His body and his brain know nothing different.

Perhaps, when he takes some time away from the game, he may find something else that tickles his fancy. Flying gliders may become even more of an attraction. Or he may find that special someone.

After six months, he may come back and find the motivation to keep hitting the rucks and making the tackles is not quite there. Soaring high above Omarama may be more of an attraction.

Also, what happens if he comes back and leads the All Blacks to three straight losses? Or drops the ball three times in a row and gets totally out-played by an opponent? Will he ever get dumped by the coach if he just does not perform? Or could he switch to the blindside flank role and leave the likes of Sam Cane and Matt Todd to fight for the No 7 jersey? Going back to that documentary, the emotion that poured into the World Cup victory was plain to see.

Can McCaw go to that well again, and lead the All Blacks to victory in 2015? Go right to the limit, as he says, in a bid to hold up that trophy again? Or can that ability only be harnessed once in a lifetime? No team has ever defended the World Cup. One of the biggest reasons is the defending team does exactly that. It defends. It does not renew itself.

Can McCaw's nearly 35-year-old body by 2015 be able to defend the cup in a foreign country?And will he even be there, through his own decision, or others?

Something to think about.

Your say
Is Richie McCaw undroppable? Will he last until the next Rugby World Cup? Readers are invited to email with their thoughts. A selection of the best comments may be published.

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