OPINION: Ludicrous that McCaw doesn't make list of top 10 Test captains

By Mark Keohane Time of article published Mar 29, 2020

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WHEN London Sunday Times rugby correspondent Stephen Jones omitted Richie McCaw from his list of top 10 Test captains and included Romanian Haralambie Dumitras at No 10, he stated that the All Blacks success of the past decade was not down to their captain but because of a team even his late grandmother could have led to success.

Jones likes to bait Kiwis, but even by his standards this was more clickbait than actual baiting.

McCaw’s success as a player at every level is unmatched. Equally, as a captain, be it for the All Blacks, the Crusaders or Canterbury.

As a player, McCaw lost just 15 in 148 Tests, and seven of those losses were by three or less points. As a captain he lost 10 from 110 Tests. As a captain, he led the All Blacks to 10 Bledisloe Cups, four Tri Nations, three Rugby Championships, completed three unbeaten Grand Slam tours of the UK and Ireland and won two successive World Cups.

McCaw played 87 of his 148 Test matches outside of New Zealand. He lost two of 61 Tests played in New Zealand and 13 in 87 overseas. He played the Wallabies and Springboks 63 times (Australia 37 and South Africa 26) and won 51 times. His six defeats against the Springboks in 26 Tests (77%) was his worst international return against the 18 respective opponents. The only two teams he did not play internationally were the US and Uruguay.

McCaw made his debut in 2001 against Ireland and by the time he finished with a second World Cup title win in 2015, 132 All Blacks had made their debut. McCaw, in a 15-year period, only missed 28 Tests and the most revealing statistic is that in those 28 Tests, the All Blacks winning percentage was 68. McCaw’s winning percentage over 15 years with the All Blacks, the majority of them as captain, was 88.5%. Former Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer wasn’t wrong when he said McCaw, as a player and captain, was worth 10-15 points a match.

Richie McCaw presents Springbok counterpart Jean de Villiers with a bottle of champagne on the occasion of his 100th Test cap at Westpac Stadium in Wellington in September 2014. Picture: Anthony Phelps/Reuters

Graham Henry, who coached the All Blacks to the 2011 World Cup title and Steve Hansen, who assisted in 2011 and was head coach in the 2015 World Cup triumph, described McCaw as the greatest player in New Zealand rugby history and without comparison the greatest captain.

Both coaches said they’d never experienced a player with his mental resolve, an ability to lead from the front and one who could sustain excellence in a 148 Test career played out in 15 successive years. Both marvelled at McCaw’s physical resolve and described him as the hardest rugby player they’d ever coached.

The world’s leading referee Nigel Owens concurred, saying it was incredible what McCaw achieved, given the attritional nature of his position.

The US coach and former Springbok assistant Gary Gold detailed that McCaw’s career analysis showed he made 70 contributions a match, which was close to two a minute with the ball in play for 40 minutes. These contributions were positive 92% of the time.

"It is unmatched by some distance," said Gold.

McCaw’s successor Kieran Read, in his autobiography ‘Straight Eight’, wrote: "His (McCaw’s) mindset, the way he could push himself to place no one could follow, was one of the most extraordinary things I witnessed. I am naturally a hard worker, at least I like to think so, but to see what he could do was absolutely inspirational. I sometimes turned up for our training sessions more nervous than I would be for a game."

Former Springbok and Italy coach Nick Mallett rates McCaw the best openside flank in history and added that it was his captaincy that set him apart during the All Blacks' most dominant period from 2011 to 2015 when they lost three times in 46 Tests and won back to back World Cups.

Richie McCaw arrives with the Webb-Ellis trophy during the 2019 World Cup opening ceremony.

"He was tireless, courageous and understated. He led from the front, always set the example, and was the perfect New Zealand captain."

Jones’s non-selection of McCaw as a top 10 Test captain, intended to be clickbait or not, is a ludicrous a statement. It is the equal of not picking the greatest cricketer Don Bradman in the top 10 because ‘even my grandmother could have averaged 99.94’.

McCaw is the greatest rugby player and Test captain in the professional era and arguably in the history of the game.

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