All Blacks captain Richie McCaw has made it official: He is retiring from all rugby after a record 148 Test matches across a 15-year international career capped with back-to-back World Cup titles.
McCaw used a news conference broadcast live in New Zealand yesterday to confirm his retirement, but the anticipated decision was partly overshadowed by the sudden death a day earlier of legendary All Blacks winger Jonah Lomu.
A resilient backrower, McCaw became international rugby’s most-capped player this year when he surpassed the mark of 141 Test appearances held by retired Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll.
He led New Zealand to victory at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, and again at Twickenham last month when the All Blacks became the first team to successfully defend the title.
McCaw was also the first captain to lead his country in 100 Tests. New Zealand won 89 per cent of the matches in which he played and more than 90 per cent of those he played as captain. Now 34, McCaw had indicated he would likely retire after the World Cup final last month, when New Zealand beat Australia, but in the euphoria of that moment – when the All Blacks also became the first team to win the cup three times – McCaw was reluctant to make the final decision.
“Deep down I suppose I didn’t want to shut the door totally,” McCaw said. “I didn’t want to make it final because I was worried that the emotion might get to me in a World Cup year.”
The decision, he said, “didn’t seem final until perhaps right now”.
“I knew with a World Cup there are no in-betweens,” he said. “You’re either going to be extremely happy or extremely disappointed. Had it gone the way of us being beaten I wanted to make sure I did it right as All Blacks captain, that I fronted [up] as you would expect and not have a foot out the door.
“If it went the other way I wanted to enjoy still being All Blacks captain and I wanted it to be about the team and not about individuals.”
McCaw has been hailed by New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen as the greatest ever All Black, both for his achievements and his longevity.
“In my opinion he will go down not only as the greatest All Black of all time but the greatest captain we have ever had, and possibly the greatest player to have ever played the game in the modern era,” Hansen said.
McCaw played first-class rugby from 1999 for Canterbury province, Super Rugby from 2001 for the Canterbury Crusaders, and played for the All Blacks from 2001, featuring in four World Cups.
His career had a low point when New Zealand were upset by France in the quarter-finals of the 2007 World Cup, when his tactical inflexibility was widely criticised. But he had a personal atonement when he led New Zealand to victory over France in the final of the 2011 tournament in Auckland’s Eden Park.
“I sit here today with no regrets about what I’ve done over the years as a rugby player,” he said.
McCaw said he would likely take up a job as a professional helicopter pilot. He recently worked with other pilots who used the downdraft from rotor blades to protect grape vines in the Marlborough region which were threatened by frost.