All Blacks rugby captain Richie McCaw epitomises all the mythical pioneer virtues New Zealanders revere in a game invented in Victorian England and embraced by a distant colony.
McCaw, still only 30, has been the world’s outstanding loose forward since he was named man-of-the-match following his debut against Ireland at Lansdowne Road a decade ago.
All that is missing is a World Cup and, after the bitter humiliation of leading his country in the shock quarter-final loss to France four years ago, McCaw now has the opportunity to avenge that dark day in Cardiff against the same opponents at Eden Park tomorrow.
New Zealand backs coach Wayne Smith was invited this week to give his appraisal of a man rated as the best openside flanker in the history of a team which has abounded in great loose forwards.
“He’s bright, he’s humble, he comes from a rural background, he’s tough, he never gets too far ahead of himself and he’s hugely resilient,” Smith said.
“I think we have seen that in the last few weeks when, although he hasn’t been able to train much, he’s kept his performance high. He can play the game in the head and he is mentally tough.
“I think this team is a reflection of him. These guys here are mentally tough, they’re hugely committed and they’re bright. He’s had a really, really positive influence on the All Blacks.”
McCaw’s mental and physical resilience in an increasingly crowded international schedule with ever more brutal physical demands is astonishing. In the most recent example he showed no effects in the semi-final against Australia of the chronic foot injury which has reduced his training to the minimum.
Born in rural Canterbury, the son of a farmer father and schoolteacher mother, he was thrust into the All Blacks’ side for their 2001 tour of England, Ireland and Argentina after only eight minutes of Super 14 rugby.
Recurring concussions in his early years interrupted his progress but he still quickly made the openside position his own with his phenomenal ability to take control at the breakdown.
McCaw broadened his role of scavenger and turnover specialist to ball-runner, creator and finisher and his performances against the 2005 British and Irish Lions, in company with the equally talented flyhalf Daniel Carter, were sublime.