All Blacks: McCaw: I can play better, I've still got plenty to offer

By Dylan Cleaver

For captain Richie McCaw and the All Blacks after October 23's Rugby World Cup final, it was their victory after 20 long years that mattered, not the tightness of the 8-7 scoreline against the French. Photo / Dean Purcell
For captain Richie McCaw and the All Blacks after October 23's Rugby World Cup final, it was their victory after 20 long years that mattered, not the tightness of the 8-7 scoreline against the French. Photo / Dean Purcell

All Black captain Richie McCaw will not see out his four-year contract with the New Zealand Rugby Union if he believes he is no longer good enough to hold his place in the team.

The inspirational skipper, who today was named the Herald's New Zealander of the Year after leading the All Blacks to their first World Cup title in 24 years on a broken foot, signed a new contract with the NZRU last year that will take him through to the end of 2015.

While it was a coup by the NZRU to re-sign their two best players - McCaw and the newlywed Dan Carter - there were some eyebrows raised at the length of their contracts, given their age and recent injury record.

However McCaw, 31 on December 31, said he would not outstay his welcome.

"Four years is definitely a long time, but I'm not going to hang around when I'm not good enough to be here," McCaw said. "I will move on before that and hopefully you know when that is."

Which should not be read as a concession speech. The outstanding flanker hopes his best is the future, not the past.

"I still believe that I can play better and I think I can evolve as a No7 too."

Steve Hansen, who is expected to be named coach in the next fortnight, also acknowledged that the World Cup in England could be a bridge too far for McCaw, but said he would have an important role over the next couple of years.

"If you look at it, can he get to four years? I don't think he knows that and I don't think any of us know that," Hansen said. "What we do know is that he will be mentoring new leaders because we've already lost some overseas - Brad Thorn and Mils [Muliaina] for example."

Don't bank on McCaw wearing the captain's armband every time he is available, either. Hansen said those decisions would be made by whoever succeeded Henry, but he still offered his take on it.

"There will be opportunities over the next few years, for sure, to allow others to lead the side," he said. "Regardless of whether he makes four years or not, Richie will mentor others.

"He's already passing on things to a guy like Kieran Read at the Crusaders. DC [Carter] is also there and he's [All Blacks] vice-captain. It's already happening. It's never been his way or the highway, it's our way."

One thing McCaw hopes will not change, is the number on his back. Peerless in his position for much of his 10-year career, McCaw would like to finish as a No7 too, rather than switching to the blindside or No8, as he does occasionally for the Crusaders.

"I've always said I would do whatever's right for whatever team I'm in, but I do think my best position is seven. I can play the other ones and if I have to do that, I have to do that."

As the position evolves, McCaw feels he is in the best position to evolve with it. We have already seen him change from being a fetching, on-the-ground player to more of a ball-carrier and front-on defender. No doubt over the next few years the demands of openside flanker will keep subtly shifting.

"That's why I want to carry on playing, because I still think I can offer something. When I stop doing that, or stop enjoying it, I'll start doing something else."

But probably not coaching. McCaw looked comfortable behind the glass alongside Todd Blackadder and Daryl Gibson as he battled injuries with the Crusaders, but he remains unconvinced. "I don't know if that's me, but you never say never."

As for the next All Blacks coach, McCaw kept to the script. "The All Blacks need to have the best available. If that's Steve, that's great. If it is someone else, then that's why you go through a process. People say it's a done deal. If Steve's the best, then it is, but if there's someone else better who's put their hand up, then the All Blacks have to have that person, it's as simple as that."

- NZ Herald

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