A nagging pain in Richie McCaw's right foot became a national headache. With the Rugby World Cup looming, McCaw had surgery to insert a screw in a bone and missed the first six weeks of the Super 15 rugby competition.

He was short on match fitness and struggled to reach his best for the All Blacks. His foot never healed properly - the screw caused more harm than good - though the injury was downplayed to reassure nervous fans.

Still, the skipper got on the paddock, and became the first All Black test centurion.

In a year when New Zealand needed cheering up, the 30-year-old embraced the weight of expectation and inspired his team to victory in sudden-death matches against Argentina, Australia and France.


"Everyone dug as deep as they can," McCaw said after lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in front of 61,000 fans at Eden Park and a "stadium of four million" outside the ground.

"It's hard to describe. The courage, what the guys put in out there. We dug deeper than we ever have before ... You've got to be warriors to win this."

Above all, the teak-tough All Black captain is a great warrior and, despite the accolades that have come his way, remains a down-to-earth bloke.

For that, and for helping to bury 24 long years between World Cup victories, Richie McCaw is our New Zealander of the Year.