Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: McCaw finally earns respect in Europe

All Black skipper seems likely to take over as father figure of the game as career of Irish great Brian O'Driscoll comes to a close

Richie McCaw can finally stand tall in the eyes of European rugby fans. Photo / Getty Images
Richie McCaw can finally stand tall in the eyes of European rugby fans. Photo / Getty Images

Finally, it seems Richie McCaw has won global appreciation. The All Black skipper hasn't historically been warmly received by European audiences who have forever questioned the legality of his work.

McCaw has never been held in the same esteem as Daniel Carter or even former greats such as Jonah Lomu and Christian Cullen.

There's been grudging respect for his bravery and work-rate, but accusations have been made that he cheats. It's made him a difficult figure to embrace.

Last year's November tour was especially bad. The All Blacks had two men in trouble with the judiciary and their reputation as thugs grew. McCaw as captain was seen as partly responsible for the lack of discipline. The fact Adam Thomson and Andrew Hore were in the dock for foul play endorsed the prevailing view in the Northern Hemisphere that the All Blacks are thugs.

A year on and it feels different. Before the game in Paris, when the big screen ran through the respective teams, resounding boos met the unveiling of McCaw. That was a legacy of the World Cup where the French feel the All Black skipper got away with murder in the final.

But by the final whistle, there was a sense the stadium had been won over by McCaw's tenacity, commitment and skill. He didn't incur the wrath of anyone at the breakdown and it was the same again in England.

The test in Dublin is expected to be another occasion where he steps further into the embrace of the global rugby public. Dublin has been good to him in the past. He made his debut at Lansdowne Road in 2001 and captained the All Blacks for the second time here in 2005. The Irish, more than most, have understood what he is all about, and their affections are likely to increase given that time is close to being called on Brian O'Driscoll.

The Irish centre is the only player in the world game of recent times who can compare with McCaw. The two have incredible records as players and as captains; the Irishman, though, has always been held closer to the heart of the European game.

McCaw is perhaps going to inherit O'Driscoll's title as the elder statesman of the world game: the man everyone respects and appreciates. Perhaps McCaw is set to have that honour bestowed because there is no one else. He's outlasted all the others - Johnny Wilkinson, O'Driscoll, John Smit, Victor Matfield. Maybe it is because his game has evolved and he's not so frequently seen to be scrapping for the tackled ball. Or maybe there is a deeper appreciation that he is captain of a side that are on track to be one of the greatest.

All Black coach Steve Hansen is aware of the changing mood and the warmer reception from European crowds.

"I don't think they have been as boisterous about him," he says. "I don't know if that's because they don't see him as the same threat or if they don't see him doing what he used to do."

The game in Dublin will effectively be a changing of the guard - McCaw taking over from O'Driscoll as the father figure of the world game.

- NZ Herald

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