x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Richie McCaw: heading towards greatness

The New Zealand flanker has an impressive CV and a bulging trophy cabinet, but he is yet to eclipse the peerless Hill.

At 28, Richie McCaw is already considered one of the greats of the game.
At 28, Richie McCaw is already considered one of the greats of the game.

Richie McCaw has an impressive CV and a bulging trophy cabinet at his home in Christchurch.

The New Zealand flanker has twice been named IRB Player of the Year, won the Super 14 twice and the Tri Nations seven times. He was named All Blacks captain at the age of 23 and can also boast a victory over the British & Irish Lions. There is, however, one glaring omission from his collection: a World Cup winners medal.

At the age of 28, McCaw is already considered one of the greats of the game, but his position in the pantheon will not be truly determined until he lifts the William Webb Ellis Trophy, thus removing the millstone around the All Blacks' neck. Since winning the tournament in 1987, they have arrived at the last five World Cups as the No 1-ranked side and the overwhelming favourites only to choke in the knockout stages. They are likely to have even the most qualified and seasoned sports psychologists scratching their heads if they fail again, this time on home soil, next year.

Another points feast on northern hemisphere soil against Ireland tomorrow and then Wales next weekend will tell us very little we do not already know about the All Blacks. McCaw knows he needs to deliver on the biggest stage of all if he is to be talked about in the same breath as Michael Jones, the great New Zealand back-rower, and Richard Hill, the England World Cup winner.

Hill is considered by many as the greatest England player of all time and it is hard not to agree. He did not get the accolades Jonny Wilkinson or Martin Johnson received for winning England the World Cup in 2003 and he was not even the most-celebrated member of a back-row that included Lawrence Dallaglio and Neil Back but that was the beauty of Hill; he went about his work with ruthless efficiency and minimal fuss. Serge Betson, the former France flanker, once said Hill came "from the shadows, from the darkness, a key man".

Hill was the one player Sir Clive Woodward never dropped while in charge of England and his performance for Saracens, his club side, in the final season of his career against Ospreys in the Heineken Cup will live long in the memory. Playing virtually on one leg - a result of two knee constructions in the space of a year - Hill moved mountains that day, dominating the battle on the floor, and limiting the effectiveness of Gavin Henson, James Hook and Shane Williams. It was an astonishing performance. McCaw will need to produce something similar to be classed in the same bracket.

kaffleck@thenational.ae