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Martin Devlin: Let's savour McCaw while we still can

opinion

Published: 7:02AM Saturday November 24, 2012 Source: ONE Sport

Is it just me or is Richie McCaw, right now, playing the best rugby of an already stellar career?

It seems quite preposterous to suggest, but from what we've seen thus far this year, I'm starting to believe that Captain Fantastic has actually (and quite incredibly) demonstrably improved!

Now, I'm not privy to the selectorial computer printouts, statistical breakdowns, hit-up percentages and tackle-count comparisons. My claims are based on nothing other than the gut-feel you get when watching him play.

Certainly - unquestionably - the 2012 McCaw is light years better than last year's World Cup-winning version. Has anyone else now, retrospectively, also begun thinking how bad that foot injury of his must've been?

Remembering, too, that he played on through the pain, discomfort and frustration it was causing him for virtually the whole season. By the time of the RWC knock-out stage, the man was reduced to game time only - at training sessions, he was nothing more than a spectator.

And yes, I'm honest enough to admit that I wondered whether his powers had waned some - hardly a surprise if that had've been the case. After a decade at the very top of his game, at some stage, you'd think the physicality of all that Super/NPC rugby and more than 100 Test matches would begin to visibly take its toll.

But apart from the odd concussive episode, his foot injury and occasional gammy knees, the body still looks to be in remarkably good health.

The thing you can easily forget about McCaw is the way he plays the game. Make no mistake about it, our All Black captain (for want of a better expression) is a hard-ass.

He plays - and always has played - his rugby tough and uncompromising. No-one will ever be able to accuse the world's greatest No 7 of shirking his duties, sea-gulling in the backline or letting his team-mates do what's commonly called "the hard yards".

I think this is why he is so enormously respected by his peers. Those that play alongside him and against him readily acknowledge the physical contribution he brings - and this in a position reknown for its especially high attrition rate.

Take a quick squiz through the results section of any recent rugby almanac and you might be pleasantly amazed at how few openside flankers, because of their injuries, consistently manage to complete an entire international season. In McCaw's case, it's a much harder exercise attempting to recall the odd occasion when he's ever missed a match.

The reason I wanted to point all this out, dear readers, is simply to remind you that the next two Tests against Wales and England are the last chance for a fair while that we'll get to watch one of our country's all-time AB legends strut his stuff. There are only two more weekends before Mr McCaw starts his six-month sabbatical, from which who knows whether he'll indeed return?

Of course, the plan is that he makes a comeback in July next year, but what say an elongated break from the game convinces him he's done all he can in the sport and so decides to call it quits?

I, like most AB fans, somehow hope he can play forever. That mummified-looking bandage, though, that encompasses one whole leg when he plays, would suggest that the prospect of still being fit and available come RWC2015 is probably more fantasy than reality.

So, in the meantime, enjoy the next two tests like they might be our last . In my mind Richie McCaw is one of our three greatest-ever All Blacks alongside Sir Colin Meads and Jonah Lomu.

In pure rugby-speak, he really does define the phrase "living legend".

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