When Kerre McIvor met Richie McCaw

By Kerre McIvor

Why is it that we want so desperately for our heroes to have feet of clay?

There's a delicious shiver of schadenfreude whenever the mighty are brought low. Look at the reaction to Tiger Woods' personal and professional meltdown in the wake of revelations of sleazy hookups every time he escaped his girl next door wife and two perfect children.

Tiger Woods, the sublime golfer and the perfect family man, was revealed as a complex, flawed individual. Just like the rest of us.

It says a lot about the age we live in when people are only interested in the salacious and the sordid and it seems that that's what people were hoping for with the release of 'Chasing Great', the documentary that followed Richie McCaw through his final season and his ultimate goal of captaining the All Blacks through back to back World Cup wins.

I would have thought that the story of a bright young man, arguably one of the greatest All Blacks of all time, who had managed to not only survive but thrive in a world where everybody has smart phones and a desire to expose the rich and the famous, is a pretty exceptional story in and of itself.

The interview was scheduled for the morning after the world premiere of 'Chasing Great' and McCaw looks fit and healthy despite flying in from the United States 24 hours previously and staying out at his own party til 3am.

He's also polite and welcoming, despite having conducted a press conference and two one-on-one interviews, with another two to go. I found it astonishing that such a private man would allow the filmakers such extraordinary access, especially a year leading up to the Rugby World Cup.

Newstalk ZB host Kerre McIvor has a one on one sit down with Richie McCaw. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Newstalk ZB host Kerre McIvor has a one on one sit down with Richie McCaw. Photo / Jason Oxenham

"One of the things that convinced me", he says, "is that as a young fella, I got inspired by watching my heroes on TV and I guess I saw that by making it authentic - doing it in real time, rather than talking about it a year later - it would inspire kids; to show that you don't have to have a special background or upbringing to live your dream."

McCaw had worked with the filmakers, Michelle Walshe and Justin Pemberton before, and trusted them to do the right thing.

He said he didn't want to edit himself but if he said something that really didn't come out the way he wanted or he felt misrepresented his true meaning, he wanted the opportunity to film it again.

In fact, he says, that never happened. Which indicates that he's a very smart man and a very considered man.

Given that he lives in a global fishbowl and a video of Richie McCaw caught in a compromising position would make the person who filmed it a fair bit of money, it seems extraordinary that he's never been caught with his pants down - metaphorically or literally. And yet he says that's because it doesn't happen.

"I think if you're putting out the perception that you're living one sort of life, and the reality is you're living another, that's when you get into trouble. With me, what you see is pretty much who I am."

I do wonder though whether the pressure of living under a spotlight in a very small country has taken its toll.

Photo / Jason Oxenham
Photo / Jason Oxenham

Years ago, possibly 2004, I was MC-ing the Canterbury Sportsperson of the Year Awards and the young Richie McCaw was open, fun and appeared to be loving life. Over time, throughout McCaw's long career I watched as he seemed to grow more and more serious.

I wondered whether the playful side of his personality had been put into a box until his rugby career was over, or whether the open, fun Richie was still able to slip the leash in front of trusted friends and family.

"There's no doubt that when you're the captain of a team like the All Blacks, when you talk, you talk on behalf of the team. So going and being - I guess - controversial - that's not going to help us perform in the weekend. And I guess that's one of the reasons why I wanted to do this film. It's not just about everything running smoothly and turning up on Saturday and playing. You have your ups and downs and I wanted to show that, rather than just show glimpses through the media. The last thing you want to be is the big headline because you've said something controversial because all that does is put pressure on the rest of the guys and will distract you from what you have to do on Saturday."

If the pressure doesn't get to professional athletes during their careers, often they're tripped up when they leave the game.

Richie McCaw at the Chasing Great press conference. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Richie McCaw at the Chasing Great press conference. Photo / Jason Oxenham

"One of the big things I've observed," says McCaw, "is that it's a big thrill running out in front of 50,000 people, but that's a thrill you'll never, ever replace somewhere else. I sometimes wonder whether people who finish their sport look to find that thrill again, in other places, and they get disappointed."

McCaw says he's looking forward and has no need to look backwards.

"If you're looking back - for whatever reason - regrets, injuries, that can make it pretty tough."

I told McCaw that a mate of mine who has played international rugby for another country had observed wryly that while having 50,000 people cheer for you is amazing, having 50,000 people boo you off the field can be pretty s***.

McCaw laughs.

Yeah, well, playing for the All Blacks, that doesn't happen too often.

This year has been about adjusting to the fact that he's no longer a professional rugby player.

"You had a schedule at the start of the year and I could probably tell you where I was going to be every day of the year," says McCaw.

"It's necessary and it's a great thing for performance but I'm loving the spontaneity of my life at the moment. I loved what I did but I've shut that chapter with no regrets and now I'm looking at the opportunities that are out there."

And the wedding plans?

"To be honest," laughs McCaw, "with Gemma being at the Olympics and with her focus on that this year, there hasn't been too much in the way of planning so I think that's about to start. It's quite exciting - I'm looking forward to it. And my job is to just keeping saying yes, isn't it?"

If you're looking for a warts and all expose in 'Chasing Great', you won't find it. But if you're looking for the story of how a Kiwi kid from an ordinary background achieved extraordinary things in his sporting career by harnessing his innate talent with a finely honed mental toughness, you'll enjoy this documentary (The home video footage is pure gold, too).

Let's set aside our cynicism and celebrate success that comes without a sordid side story and believe just once, that great athletes can also be good people.

- NZ Herald

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