All Blacks: McCaw lets ball do talking

By Wynne Gray

There is never any hesitation about Richie McCaw in the No 7 jersey. Never a moment when he is not fullbore, with his instincts tuned to chasing the pig's bladder, scrabbling at the breakdown or belting rivals like they are tackle bags.

However, when it comes to rating his own work, the champion opensider pulls on the 'aw shucks' look so admired by New Zealanders and tries to avoid the topic. Like many champions he prefers his work to speak for itself and for others to make their judgments.

But momentous performances litter his already stellar career and this week coach Graham Henry offered the thought that his captain produced a career-best classic in the All Blacks' latest Tri-Nations victory in Cape Town.

The skipper admits he was very content about that chapter in his career a few weeks ago but then offers his standard clause about maintaining standards and moving on to the next assignment rather than dwelling on the past. It is the sort of regular refrain you get from the All Black captain.

His former coach Robbie Deans was not so circumspect when asked about McCaw's influence in this series since returning from the severe ankle injury which eliminated him from the All Blacks' initial loss in Sydney.

"He's been the most obvious point of difference (in Auckland and Cape Town) in terms of impact on games," the now Wallaby boss said. "He's contributed an enormous amount to the turnaround."

McCaw starts to squirm in his seat when you continue to press the topic and throw in questions about his last Bledisloe Cup test at Brisbane in 2006 when he nailed Wallaby Mark Gerrard in a try-saving tackle on a night of ferocious production from the flanker.

Pointedly, former Wallaby fullback Chris Latham bemoaned McCaw's impact in that 13-9 victory for the All Blacks when he said: "It seemed like there were five of him."

McCaw's value is highlighted in his All Black winning percentage, which at a shade over 89 per cent, is higher than the side's impressive historical record. He is precious talismanic cargo, someone the All Blacks need for this test and who was never going to be risked with a slight rib problem against Samoa last week.

Only seven times in his 64 tests has McCaw felt the cold horror of defeat, three against the Wallabies (2002, 2003 and 2007), twice against the Boks and solitary losses to England and France.

It is very rare for McCaw to be out of sync or shut out of a match. He is one of those special players who gets himself in the right mental and physical zone almost all the time.

While his production rarely wavers there has not been the same consistency from all three sides in the Tri-Nations.

"I think that shows how little there is between all three sides and if you turn up with the attitude not quite on that edge it is so easy to come second you know," he said in his usual understated manner.

"If you are not quite right you will come second. Captaincy comes second to going out and performing," McCaw said of his influence.

"That is what you should be aiming for. Once you get that right you can contribute and help other guys I suppose, so I guess the key is leading by example and if you can do that then hopefully others will get in behind and have good performances as well.

"That's what I aim to do, go out and play first, be the best player I can be first and then the rest of the stuff will hopefully happen easy enough."

So how did he rate his work at Cape Town, the performance which sent Henry dizzy with delight?

"Yeah I was happy enough," he said almost nonchalantly before pausing.

"I think you can have one or two good performances but it is a matter of being consistently good and that is what I keep aiming for. You have got to keep your feet on the ground and if you keep looking back and thinking that one was good it doesn't take long to not get it right.

He had been relieved to return and chalk up a victory against the Wallabies at Eden Park to halt a two-test losing streak but tomorrow the All Blacks would be up against a side just as desperate.

In 2006 he remembered a tight game and having to grind the victory out. In similar games like that, the side had tripped up against the Wallabies on their home turf.

"I had one of my better days," he said, before pausing with his awkward smile and adding, "and I think a lot of guys felt like that. We had to really dig deep at the end there when they were attacking and things like that and that was what was pretty satisfying about that one there".

He tried to deflect recollections of the tackle on Gerrard by saying that was a flanker's job to cover tackle and be desperate when it demanded.

He did not want to compare his work in Brisbane and Cape Town, though he accepted they were both in his leading group of performances. He preferred to say that when players left a game they knew how well they had played, how much they had delivered, how much they had given of themselves and whether they had done their job.

Some days nothing spectacular happened but as a player, you knew whether you had contributed in every facet of the match and achieved all your targets.

"That is what I try and rate myself on rather than the one spectacular thing that perhaps gets blown out of proportion at times. I rate myself on all little parts of my game and what I contribute to the team."

Cape Town and Brisbane were both very different games but both very satisfying.

The pattern had been for sides to use low-risk tactics. The All Blacks had been burned in Sydney when they tried to be too expansive but since then, playing with a more conservative approach, they had been able to increase their profit.

- NZ Herald

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