His physical commitment is unquestioned but it's mental energy that sets the inspirational McCaw apart.

Eating breakfast looked to be an ordeal. Only Richie McCaw understood his suffering, but the corked leg, dinged shoulder, bruised jaw and cuts were balanced by the glow of his golden performance against the Springboks.

Somehow the All Black captain described the torrid 21-11 victory as "fun to play in", although he qualified that by saying the result was crucial in dimming the pain.

McCaw has been through this physical discomfort many times in his 110-test career and brushes his performances away with "not too bad" remarks which endear him even more to the public and his All Black mates.

Former All Blacks like John Timu, who were capped at a ceremony before the Dunedin test, were staggered by the captain's performance.


"He is just a hell of a player, extraordinary, unbelievable," the 26-test Timu remarked.

McCaw's place in the top echelon of All Blacks was confirmed long ago but the openside flanker continues to produce top-drawer work in the most demanding of roles. His feats inspire his team-mates, from the new faces to seasoned campaigner Ma'a Nonu.

"He's an amazing warrior really, "Nonu said, "and is always a benchmark for our team. Some of us want to be beside him and play really well.

"He always puts his guts on the line and his body on the line really and he could die for this team."

Watching McCaw make his way slowly through the hotel foyer yesterday was a glimpse into the physical work of the gladiator.

"I just got a knee in the quad, nothing too major at all," he said, brushing away the damage.

But what sets McCaw apart is his relentless drive, his mental energy, which mark him as one of this nation's special players.

He, rather than any of the outside backs, led the chase in the final minute and reclaimed Aaron Cruden's penalty kick which rebounded from a post.

McCaw reeled away from the ensuing pile-up with a damaged leg, while earlier he was unable to protect himself fully because of his crocked shoulder when replacement Bok prop Dean Greyling hurtled at him and crashed into his jaw.

All Black coach Steve Hansen labelled that "a cheap shot" while Bok coach Heyneke Meyer apologised to McCaw on behalf of his team.

Without McCaw, you imagine the result might not have favoured the All Blacks. His athletic skills are significant because he can fetch, drive or carry against any foe.

He has added more variation to his game in recent years as the lawmakers have tinkered without great success in dealing with the tackled ball area.

His leadership continues to expand after 73 tests in charge but it is the power of his mind and his unbending resolve which marks him above most in the game.

Bodies get broken and minds are twisted, and while McCaw suffers structural damage like most, his mind never yields.

When games are wavering as Saturday's test was, McCaw's strengths assist his team more often than not. He will exhort his men for more and show them the way.

Messages about McCaw blink strongly at every foe. Ignore him or downplay his impact at your peril