Richie McCaw is a special player and this morning the All Blacks captain notched yet another special milestone when he became the first player to win 100 tests with the 32-16 defeat of the Springboks in Soweto.
The 31-year-old will take a well-deserved break in the first half of 2013 as he rests a body that has endured a hammering throughout his career. Before he does that, however, McCaw could well lead the All Blacks to a new world record for consecutive wins - they are currently on 16, one short of the mark for tier one sides set by the All Blacks of the 1960s and Springboks of the 1990s - and unbeaten in a calendar year.
It's difficult to see anyone eclipsing McCaw's record as an All Black and All Black captain. His 100th test win came in his 112th test and he's captained the side 75 times since his first as a 23-year-old in 2004. Sean Fitzpatrick led New Zealand 51 times in his 92-test career.
Of McCaw's 12 defeats, five each have come against South Africa and Australia and the other two were the 2007 World Cup quarter-final loss to France and a 15-13 defeat to England in Wellington in 2003.
"It's pretty special," McCaw admitted of his 100th win. "I don't often put personal stuff ahead of what you are trying to do out there on the field but, after a performance like that, they are the reasons you play this game - to test yourself and play in an atmosphere like that.
"I guess I'm just thankful to be out there each time and to have got to 100 wins you have to be part of a pretty special team. I have been lucky over a long time to be with a good bunch of men and today was another good example of the fun you have have when you work hard and get the result you are after."
No one works harder than McCaw and his teammates have no option but to follow his lead. He rarely comes off the field afterwards without some battle wounds and today he sported a black eye - the result of "friendly fire" from Ben Franks.
McCaw will forgive the prop after the All Blacks produced another high-quality performance in arguably their most difficult test of the year. They trailed South Africa 16-12 at halftime but scored 20-unanswered points in the second spell to underline their dominance in this year's Rugby Championship.
Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer conceded there was a considerable gulf in class between the two sides, even though South Africa are ranked second in the world.
"There's a huge difference, I believe, between second and first," he said. "They are the world champions and won a lot of games in a row. I think the one thing why they're such a great side [is that], even if they play badly, there are one or two brilliant players who can pull it through and suddenly they're off the hook."
The All Blacks round out their year against Australia in Brisbane on October 20 before taking on Scotland, Italy, Wales and England and it's not unrealistic to expect their winning streak could sit at 21 when they return from the end-of-year tour.
No 8 Kieran Read, who is a leading candidate to assume the captaincy during McCaw's sabbatical, admitted they were motivated by the record.
"We pride ourselves on the way we can back up test matches and we want to be great," he told Newstalk ZB. "This side wants to be one of the greats that's played this game so we focus on each game as it comes. I guess it puts that motivation for Brisbane right up there."
South Africa 16 (Bryan Habana try; Johan Goosen con, pen; Elton Jantjies 2 pens) New Zealand 32 (Sam Whitelock, Aaron Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith tries; Daniel Carter 3 cons, pen, dg). HT: 12-16.
- APNZBy Michael Brown Email Michael