No surprise as McCaw named All Blacks captain

Coach Graham Henry carried out the inevitable this morning when he anointed flanker Richie McCaw the new All Blacks rugby captain.

In one of the more predictable rugby announcements of recent times, the outstanding Canterbury and Crusaders forward was named to replace Tana Umaga, who announced his retirement in January.

Unless injury intervened, McCaw, 25, was always next in line for arguably the highest-ranking and most scrutinised role in New Zealand sport.

He has been Henry's vice-captain since his coaching reign began more than two years ago and captained the All Blacks in tests against Wales in 2004 and Ireland in 2005 - games when Umaga was rested.

Henry had made little effort to hide the fact that McCaw was Umaga's logical successor and the post was confirmed at the player's Christchurch Rugby Club this morning.

McCaw said cut a proud figure at a press conference staged at his Christchurch Rugby Club.

"It is a huge honour and a privilege," he said.

"I'm pretty excited about what lies ahead, especially my experiences for the last 18 months with the All Blacks have been pretty enjoyable.

"They're a good bunch of guys and having the chance to captain that team is something that I'm looking forward to. I can't wait to get amongst it really."

McCaw said he was aware of the extra pressures of the role but believed he was ready for them.

"There's obviously a lot (of responsibilities) that comes with it but it's a challenge I'm really looking forward to," he said.

"When I spoke to Graham and the selectors about it I knew what the story was. They said they had faith in me to do it so I was excited about being given that opportunity."

McCaw said Henry told him "a wee while ago" that he would have the role on a permanent basis.

He became the All Blacks' 60th captain when led them against Wales in Cardiff in 2004 when Umaga was rested. He was also skipper in the Grand Slam test against Ireland in Dublin late last year.

McCaw made a spectacular test debut as a 20-year-old against Ireland in 2001 and has played 36 tests.

His playing standards have rarely slipped and he is widely regarded as among the premier loose forwards of the modern game.

There were few gasps of surprise as Henry made his announcement today.

"It was an obvious choice and that's why it was very hard to keep it a secret," he said.

"Richie is a world class player, highly respected by his fellow players and he's had a lot of success as a captain at provincial level."

Henry said McCaw would lead the side in the first test of the series against Ireland, on June 10 in Hamilton, and "probably" in the second on June 17 in Auckland.

He will also fly to Argentina for the one-off test against the Pumas on June 24 at Buenos Aires, even though Henry and the selectors are employing a largely different squad for that match.

He hoped the transition from Umaga would be a seamless one as the players had similar traits.

"It's important that the captain is a quality player and I think Richie is one of the best No 7s in world rugby," Henry said.

"I think the ability to lead from the front and be a world class player is important for the rest of the players.

"Tana Umaga was a world class player, guaranteed of selection and Richie just carries on with that sort of philosophy."

- NZPA 

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