Gregor Paul 's Opinion

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Injury a blessing for McCaw

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The Crusaders won't be seeing Richie McCaw back before May. Photo / Getty Images
The Crusaders won't be seeing Richie McCaw back before May. Photo / Getty Images

Here's a list of the New Zealand winners over the weekend: Chiefs, Blues, Richie McCaw and the All Blacks.

The Chiefs...obvious. Ditto the Blues. McCaw..? Broke his thumb and learned he'd miss at least the next eight weeks? A winner? Absolutely.

Frankly, McCaw has escaped eight weeks of rugby his body didn't need. The Crusaders need him over the next eight weeks - his leadership and experience will be hard to replace.

Super Rugby needs him - to lend the competition weight and gravitas. The rugby public needs him - for much the same reasons as Super Rugby needs him, but also to arrest their fears that some senior players are basically being contracted just to play tests.

But the man himself, he'll benefit from not playing. McCaw is a different beast to his peers. His fitness is legendary. Ahead of his bout in last year's Fight for Life, Liam Messam reckoned he was pretty fit, but he also said he was nowhere near McCaw when it came to the aerobic testing.

The All Black skipper has shown on numerous occasions that he can return to top flight rugby after a long lay-off and play miraculously good rugby.

So there shouldn't be any concerns about his form in the June tests if he skips the next eight weeks and returns in May.

His timing and his judgement only need about 80 minutes of action to be close to their best.

Most of his fellow loose forwards require longer to find form - they need constant rugby to be at their best. They need the contact, the knocks and the intensity to condition themselves.

It's different for McCaw. At 33, and having played close to 300 first-class games, his body doesn't need the same buffeting. It's had almost 14 years of being pounded and in truth, the only reason he started this campaign was because he'd run out of valid reasons to start late.

It would have been a major snub had he come back late again - having missed virtually all of last year, a fair bit of 2012 and most of 2011. He owed it to the Crusaders - especially with Dan Carter on sabbatical - to be on board from the start.

But his loyalty would have come at a cost - blunted him more than it would have sharpened him and a broken thumb is a giant blessing.

There's a lobby, perhaps a growing one, that sees McCaw as a fading force. Inexplicably, some want to cast him as yesterday's man, basing their thesis on the premise the skipper is not the player he used to be.

They are absolutely right - he's not, but different doesn't mean worse or less effective. It means he's adapted his skill-set to suit the needs of the team for which he is playing.

It's an amazing quality. Opensides aren't supposed to be able to be so adaptable - which is why so many of his peers haven't lasted the way he has. Remember how effective Heinrich Brussow was in 2009? His work on the ground was exceptional. He was a classic ball-grubbing seven, but then the rules changed, Brussow didn't and the Boks said goodbye.

McCaw continues to produce statistics that make him among the world's best. He carries and he tackles with the same intensity as Kieran Read.

Sometimes he's the victim of his own brilliance - seemingly missing tackles on Robbie Fruean and Tevita Li in recent weeks - but he was the only loose forward who got in the vicinity to even attempt the tackle.

Come June and then August, September and beyond, the value of McCaw's broken thumb will become obvious.

- NZ Herald

Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer. He has written several books on rugby including the Reign of King Henry, Black Obsession and For the Love of the Game.

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