Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Time is running out for McCaw in captain's spot

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Mana surrounding All Black great makes it a tough call for coach.

Kieran Read should replace Richie McCaw as captain permanently, says Chris Rattue. Photo / Getty Images
Kieran Read should replace Richie McCaw as captain permanently, says Chris Rattue. Photo / Getty Images

At the risk of labouring a point that will have many troops rolling with laughter in the aisles, Saturday night's romp in Dunedin added further weight to giving Kieran Read the All Black captaincy, and letting the great Richie McCaw slug it out for the openside with Sam Cane.

McCaw will lead the campaign to Europe but the heat is on his playing position - make no mistake - particularly if there are more injury breakdowns after the sabbatical that was supposed to refresh his body, not diminish it.

For now, the sabbatical theory is not working out all that well. It exposed Dan Carter to the unsafe demands of professional rugby, outside the care of the NZRU, with big consequences.

The exceptional length of McCaw's break may have helped the mind, but might be working against a body deemed unfit for action on Saturday night.

The McCaw legend and resulting influence over matches lives on, but as players he and Cane are about neck and neck but on different trajectories. Cane was fantastic against the Wallabies in a performance above what we've seen from McCaw since his comeback, the initial return match against Australia aside, perhaps. The All Blacks could be faced with the continual sideshow of late assess ments about whether McCaw plays, with diminishing returns.

His ability to make the next World Cup in a sufficiently fit state is in increasing doubt. There is no shame in removing the captaincy burdens from an ageing warrior and allowing him to concentrate on the playing tasks.

Read has stamped himself as the premier player in world rugby this year, and is in the perfect forwards captaincy position, a more favourable one than openside. Read is also more likely than McCaw to go the 80-minute distance, whereas the McCaw legend is working against Steve Hansen making the sensible calls on when Cane comes on the field.

McCaw is still a class act but his hit-ups are an area where he has not been quite as impressive, and he missed a few tackles at Ellis Park. Cane wrestled the ball forward strongly about 10 times on Saturday night while also doing a fabulous job elsewhere.

Cane, a powerful young man with plenty of ticker, will have the chance to reach his prime by World Cup time, which is what all these rugby campaigns are about these days. Who is more likely to be playing better in 2015 and survive the tournament - McCaw or Cane? The answer is straightforward. Then again, when you are dealing with a legend, the decision is not.

While Carter is another colossus, the All Blacks are doing fine without him. Indeed, while there is a reluctance to replace Carter in matches, the set play of introducing Beauden Barrett for Aaron Cruden produces results beyond Carter's capabilities at this stage of his career.

Life moves on, especially with the talent at New Zealand's disposal.

The All Blacks will have trouble letting go of their captain supreme, and rightly so. Who the heck would have the courage to drop Richie McCaw, the hero of the 2011 World Cup, the greatest All Black in history to many, and a man revered from the Cape to the Bluff.

You can bet on one thing - the competition will bring the very best out of McCaw, if he needs any spur, but the body may finally be saying no. Steve Hansen being Steve Hansen, this won't be preying on his mind as his team storms through the game.

But if Hansen isn't facing this decision right now, it may well arrive some time soon. Or are the All Blacks going to wait until McCaw breaks down beyond repair, so the toughest call in All Black history is made for them?

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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