Chris Rattue recalls seven unforgettable memories from a great number seven, Richie McCaw.

1) The Debut (v Ireland, Dublin, 2001)

The 20-year-old McCaw was thrown in the deep end, after a top-class career of just 17 NPC matches. But he was surrounded by a lot of friends in front of a 49,000 crowd at Lansdowne Rd Stadium - apart from captain Anton Oliver, the rest of the pack were McCaw's Canterbury comrades. So it was a sort of home away from home, and McCaw starred in the 40 - 29 win, being named man-of-the-match. Accolades tumbled down. McCaw said he initially struggled at the breakdown, because Ireland were smarter at sealing the ball off than he was used to. He got better as the game went on. "It was a hell of a stadium to play at, a real rugby stadium, a big crowd - something I'll always remember, very special," said McCaw.

2) The Tackle - 1 (v South Africa, Durban, 2002)

McCaw was first to get in a rescuing tackle after drunken Springbok fan Pieter van Zyl trundled on to the field in Durban and attacked Irish referee David McHugh. With such a long career, McCaw was more likely than most to face some crazy situations. In typical McCaw fashion, he knew what to do and simply got on with it.

McCaw stops a crowd intruder after referee David McHugh was tackled. Photo / Getty
McCaw stops a crowd intruder after referee David McHugh was tackled. Photo / Getty

3) The Tackle - 2 (v Australia, Brisbane, 2006)

One of his greatest games, with an iconic moment. In the third quarter, McCaw went on a long, flying diagonal run to cut down Wallabies back Mark Gerrard near the corner, completing the turnover for good measure. He made a staggering 19 tackles in the game, and was widely perceived to be The Difference between the sides in a 19 - 9 victory. McCaw's all-action game kept Australia tryless for the first time in three years, playing at a stadium known as Fortress Suncorp. On McCaw, coach Graham Henry said: "You can't play better than that". Gerrard was even more effusive "He's anywhere and everywhere . . . it seemed like we were playing four or five of him," the winger said.

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4) The World Cup final victory - 1 (v France, Auckland, 2011)

New Zealand's 8 - 7 win should be known as the Battle of Broken Foot. This is his finest moment. When McCaw finally reveals the truth about the injury in The Open Side written with Greg McGee, the details are quite unbelievable. He hid the truth about his foot from team mates and coaches during the tournament, and refused an x-ray for fear it would prove there was a break. It felt like he was standing on hot coals. He relied on painkillers, adrenaline and willpower. But getting on and off the field was "complete agony". Mental skills staff helped get him through and he had to "grit his teeth" to ensure he walked normally.

Five minutes into the semifinal against Australia, he felt "a clunk or a pop or a crack" and almost limped off. During the semi, he made a stunning turnover, flying over the back of centre Anthony Fainga'a and stealing the ball while landing upside down. Injury, what injury? McCaw wrote: "...there's no point in freaking them (the coaches)...I just keep telling them I'll be right. Even if I don't train at all, I can still go out and perform." The one and only...

5) The Try (v South Africa, Johannesburg 2015)

Trailing 17 - 20, the All Blacks engineered a lineout-move try that is excitedly labelled by some as genius, although others claim it was illegal on up to three counts. McCaw stands at halfback, Codie Taylor lobs the ball into a lineout gap, and the All Black captain steams onto it and through halfback Ruan Pienaar to send the All Blacks towards another victory. This epitomised the All Blacks ability' to think calmly and clearly under pressure, a trait that owes much to the phlegmatic McCaw and is epitomised by the amazing late Ryan Crotty try against Ireland in 2013. After the win in Joburg, coach Steve Hansen said: "We practised it all week. It was just a variation of an old song, really, and it was good enough to get us home." Still, it needed perfect execution from McCaw near the end of a draining test at a most demanding venue.

6) The Pass (v South Africa, Twickenham, 2015)

McCaw's ball skills have not always matched the other areas of his game. But he provided a terrific pass, popped at high speed over Springboks captain Fourie du Preez, to set up Jerome Kaino's thundering charge down the touchline for the All Blacks first try in the World Cup semifinal.

McCaw set up Jerome Kaino for the opening try of the 2015 semifinal against South Africa. Photo / Brett Phibbs
McCaw set up Jerome Kaino for the opening try of the 2015 semifinal against South Africa. Photo / Brett Phibbs

7) The World Cup final victory - 2 (v Australia, Twickenham, 2015)

What a way to go out. The first man to hold the Webb Ellis Cup aloft twice, and New Zealand's first World Cup victory on foreign soil. At nearly 35, in his 148th test, McCaw's warrior spirit was undiminished even if his work rate was not quite up to the peaks of his career. Still, he was one of the best on the field. Afterwards, Steve Hansen anoints McCaw as the greatest All Black and pinpoints why he rates him just above Dan Carter. Hansen said: "...you shouldn't play 148 test matches as a flanker. That is unheard of. You put your body on the line every time you play there." If anything, McCaw had got more stoic during his career. "We came here, did the job and got the job done...we expected to come and play our best and if a team was better than us on that day then so be it."

McCaw lifts the William Webb Ellis trophy for a second time. Photo / Brett Phibbs
McCaw lifts the William Webb Ellis trophy for a second time. Photo / Brett Phibbs

More McCaw:

Gregor Paul on Richie McCaw: Follow the leader
Richie's other passion - gliding
Richie McCaw - All the stats
Keeping a lid on the Kurow kid
Test debut: Bruised star McCaw makes big impact
When 'Richard' McCaw was first named an All Black