All Blacks legend Buck Shelford has claimed Richie McCaw had one aspect he could never master during his All Blacks career, and it extends to a growing trend he has noticed in New Zealand rugby.
Despite playing on either side of the turn of the century, Shelford and McCaw share plenty of similarities in their All Blacks careers. Both played in the loose forwards, captained the national side and have gone down as two of the best in the history of New Zealand rugby.
The now 62-year-old Shelford dominated the back of the scrum for the All Blacks between 1986 and 1990, while McCaw's reign as New Zealand's best openside stretched for over a decade.
But while the majority of McCaw's career glistens with countless trophies and an abundance of personal accolades, Shelford notes for The XV a particular area that he believes the former talisman could never quite nail down.
"Richie McCaw played No 8 for a couple of games and they were big failures. At flanker he was brilliant. But when he played at No 8 he struggled with it. He was a different character altogether," Shelford says.
"Not everyone is that talented that they can switch over."
Those two games came against Ireland in 2012 and Japan in 2013, and while both delivered comfortable wins for New Zealand, clearly Shelford believes McCaw's performances were off the mark, as well as in the matches where he switched late in second half to the back of the scrum.
Shelford argues there is too much positional fluidity among the loose forwards in New Zealand right now, and says the position is fast becoming a "lost art".
"We need to understand that not everything has to go through the No 10. The No 8 is the brain at the back of the scrum. It's not rocket science but it is another platform to attack off and we don't do it enough," he said in The XV.
"The thinking in New Zealand is that we can shift our No 6s and No 7s to the back of the scrum and they will pick it up and get on with it – almost instantly master the art of playing No 8. But it doesn't work like that. The roles are quite different."
Shelford even suggested that former All Blacks captain Kieran Read had some holes in his game at No 8.
"I rated Kieran Read as a good footballer, but I felt there were a few shortages in his game for No 8. Some of his other skills were outstanding, but he was missing a few skills around the base of the scrum and I suspect that was because he played as a blindside flanker in his earlier career and again played there, or at least packed down there, later in his career."
But while he argues No 8 is a crucial specialist position, Shelford reveals the one player he believes has succeeded at the switch is Ardie Savea.
"That may be because he doesn't seem to think about it, he just does it. Rather than think about the job and what the job needs, he has the mindset that he'll go anywhere he's asked as long as he gets the chance to run with the ball," Shelford says.
"You hear people say that Ardie isn't big enough to play No 8 but I remember Murray Mexted said to my wife that I would never become an All Blacks No 8 because I was too small… I don't care how big the guy is. It is about manipulating the scrum to create more attacking opportunity and to be able to exploit that. Size doesn't matter."
Shelford wants to see the current crop of promising talents, including Akira Ioane, Hoskins Sotutu and Chiefs' loosie Pita Gus Sowakula, coached better.
"What they need is for their coaches to give them the opportunity to attack around the fringes more because it opens up another dynamic," he adds.
Savea, Ioane and Sotutu will all be vying for appearances in the back row starting this weekend with the All Blacks' opening test of 2020 against the Wallabies in Wellington. There will be seven more games schedule after that for Ian Foster and his crew to get a fair idea of their best loose forward contingent.