Richard Hugh "Richie" McCaw (born 31 December 1980 in Oamaru, North Otago) is a professional New Zealand rugby union player. He plays in the openside flanker position for the New Zealand, Crusaders and Canterbury rugby teams. McCaw is considered one of the best players in his position, with his ability to anticipate play and adapt to the referees rulings some of his key attributes. He was raised in rural South Canterbury, before moving to Dunedin in 1994 to board at Otago Boys' High School. In 1999 he moved to Christchurch to study at Lincoln University and was selected in the national under-19 rugby union team. The following year he played for the Under 21s and Canterbury in the National Provincial Championship, before debuting in 2001 for the Crusaders in the Super 14.
McCaw was selected for the 2001 New Zealand National Rugby Team's end-of-year tour, despite having played only a total of eight minutes of Super 14 rugby. His debut for the team (nicknamed the All Blacks) was against Ireland, where he put in a man-of-the-match performance and was selected as New Zealand's first choice open-side flanker for the 2003 World Cup. McCaw became a regular selection in the New Zealand national rugby team, only missing a few games due to reoccurring concussions. In 2006 he was named captain of the All Blacks. He led the All Blacks at the 2007 World Cup and his captaincy came under criticism after they were knocked out in the quarter-final. He continued to captain the All Blacks after the world cup and will lead the team into the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
During McCaw's rugby career Canterbury won the NPC (later ITM Cup) five times and the Crusaders reached the Super Rugby semi-finals nine times, going on to win the final on four of these occasions. Since his debut the All Blacks have won seven Tri Nations titles, completed three successful Grand Slam tours and won the Bledisloe Cup eight times. In 2010 McCaw played his 100th Super Rugby game, a record equaling 94 tests for his country and became New Zealands most capped All Black captain, leading the side in 57 test matches. He has been named the International Rugby Board (IRB) International Player of The Year a record three times. In 2010 his contract was NZ$750,000 per year, making him the equal highest paid player in New Zealand
McCaw's great-great-grandfather immigrated to New Zealand, from the Scottish Borders in 1893, and settled in the Hakataramea Valley, South Canterbury. McCaw's father still works the family farm and his mother is a local teacher. On New Year's Eve 1980, Richard Hugh McCaw was born in the nearby city of Oamaru. He grew up on his parents' farm along with his sister Joanna. McCaw started flying gliders with his grandfather, a pilot during World War II, when he was nine years old. He played rugby for the local Kurow rugby club as a youngster, but it was not until 1994, when he boarded at Otago Boys' High School in Dunedin, that he started to take the game seriously.
In his last year at Otago Boys High, McCaw was head boy, proxime accessit (runner up) to the dux and played in the school's top rugby team. McCaw came to the attention of national selectors during a 5-all draw with Rotorua Boys' High School in the 1998 New Zealand secondary schools rugby final in Christchurch. However, he failed to make the New Zealand Secondary Schools Team, losing out to Sam Harding, Angus McDonald and Hale T-Pole. With Sam Harding moving south to study at the University of Otago, McCaw headed to Christchurch's Lincoln University to study agricultural science and pursue his rugby interests.
In 1999, McCaw was selected in the New Zealand under 19 squad (coached by Mark Shaw), which won the world championship in Wales. During that series, McCaw realised his All Blacks dream could be attainable. The following year he was selected in the New Zealand under 21 squad and debuted for Canterbury in the National Provincial Championship (NPC) against North Harbour. On 31 March 2001 he made his Super Rugby debut with the Crusaders, playing a few minutes in a losing effort against the Hurricanes. That year he only only played twice for the Crusaders, both times as a substitute, for a total of just eight minutes playing time. He did however play a full season with NPC champions Canterbury and captained the New Zealand Under 21s.
Although the then 20-year-old McCaw had only played seventeen matches for Canterbury, John Mitchell, the new All Black coach, selected him for the 2001 end of year tour to Ireland, Scotland and Argentina. This led Josh Kronfeld, a former All Black openside flanker, to criticise the selection: "You might as well just give All Black jerseys to everybody. The fact they picked guys off one NPC season is bloody incredible".
McCaw's debut international test was against Ireland at Lansdowne Road on 17 November 2001. His first touch of the game resulted in a knock on when he was hit in a tackle and New Zealand were trailing the Irish 16–7 at half-time. In the second half the All Blacks recovered to win 40–29 and McCaw was named man of the match, receiving a standing ovation at the post-match function. A turning point came in the second half when McCaw was able to steal the ball from Ireland, which led to a try to left wing Jonah Lomu. After the match McCaw recalled the experience: "it was a hell of a stadium to play at, a real rugby stadium, a big crowd – something I'll always remember, very special."
McCaw played all three tests on the tour, with the All Blacks beating Scotland 37–6 and winning 24–20 against Argentina. At the end of season rugby awards, McCaw was selected as both the New Zealand Rugby Football Union Under-21 and Air New Zealand NPC Division One Player of the Year.
In the lead-up to the 2003 World Cup McCaw was a regular player for Canterbury, the Crusaders and the All Blacks. In 2002 and 2003 the Crusaders competed in the Super Rugby final, beating the Brumbies in 2002 and losing to the Blues in 2003. The Canterbury provincial rugby team lost the semi final to eventual the winners Auckland in 2002. McCaw and the other All Blacks were "rested" during the 2003 national provincial championship.
In 2002 McCaw played for the All Blacks against the touring Ireland team (15–6 and 40–8 victories) and in the Tri Nations against Australia and South Africa. Of the six 2002 test matches McCaw played in, five were won by New Zealand with the only loss to Australia. The 14–16 loss occurred in New Zealand's third Tri Nations match and ensured the Bledisloe Cup stayed with Australia. During the All Blacks match against South Africa in Durban a pitch invader attacked Irish referee David McHugh as a scrum was being set, dislocating his shoulder in the process. McCaw and A.J. Venter wrestled the assailant off the referee and, according to McHugh, if they had not got involved his shoulder would have been broken. McCaw was rested, along with 20 other members of the Tri Nations squad, from the 2002 end-of-year tour to Europe.
After another successful campaign with the Crusaders in 2003 (reaching the Super 12 finals), McCaw was again selected as first choice openside flanker for the All Blacks. In June he was involved in a narrow 13–15 defeat at home to England, was a non-playing reserve in a 55–3 victory against Wales and played in a 31–23 win over France. The 2003 All Blacks retained the Tri Nations title, regained the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 1997 and were ranked second behind England leading into the World Cup.
McCaw was selected as openside flanker for the 2003 All Blacks World Cup squad and played in every game at the tournament. New Zealand won all their pool games and beat South Africa in the quarter finals to qualify for a semi-final match-up against Australia. In an upset, the Australians defeated the All Blacks, knocking them out of the tournament. At the end of the season awards McCaw received the Kelvin Tremain Trophy for the New Zealand Rugby Union player of the year.
The Crusaders finished as runner-ups in the 2004 Super 14 season, losing the final to the Brumbies. Following the World Cup, John Mitchell was dropped as All Black coach and replaced by Graham Henry. McCaw was selected as first choice openside flanker and made vice captain. However, he was escorted off the field after suffering concussion following a clash of heads with fellow All Black Xavier Rush. He was a late withdrawal from the second test against England and played 70 minutes against Argentina before again leaving the field due to dizziness. Still suffering headaches a month later, he withdrew from the rest of the home campaign and the 2004 Tri Nations to focus on recovery. McCaw returned to captain Canterbury to the finals at the tail end of the NPC season. In November 2004 he returned for the All Blacks' end-of-season tour to Italy, Wales and France. He was made captain at the age of 23 for the first time against Wales as regular captain Tana Umaga was rested.
In April 2005, while captaining the Crusaders, McCaw again suffered a concussion. He was stretchered off the field two minutes into the game after attempting a tackle on Bulls prop Richard Bands. After the incident, McCaw visited a young boy in hospital who had broken his neck playing rugby and started to question whether he should be playing the game. Another paraplegic in the ward told him he had broken his neck swimming on holiday in Fiji, convincing McCaw that it could happen anywhere, and you may as well "do what you enjoy". A month later, in May 2005, McCaw returned to training with the Crusaders and led them in their semi-final and final victories.
McCaw returned to international rugby in 2005, playing in the 91–0 victory over Fiji before the British and Irish Lions arrived. He then played the first two test against the Lions, including a record 48–18 victory in Wellington. The All Blacks defeated the touring Lions 3–0 in the series. McCaw was part of the successful Tri Nations campaign (losing just one game) and Grand Slam (when victory is achieved against the four home nations) end of year tour. He missed the game against England after suffering his third serious head knock against Ireland. Despite his injury concerns, McCaw was shortlisted for the 2005 IRB International Player of the Year, which was won by All Black team-mate Dan Carter.
New captain McCaw leading a Haka
against France in 2006
McCaw was made captain of the Crusaders in 2005 and led them to the Super Rugby title again in 2006. On May 2006, at the age of 25 and after 36 test matches, McCaw was named captain of the All Blacks. His first two games as regular captain were against Ireland in New Zealand, while a separate squad led by Jerry Collins was named to travel to Argentina for a one off game. McCaw started his captaincy with victory over Ireland and then mentored stand-in captain Jerry Collins in Argentina. New Zealand emerged as 2006 Tri Nations champions (the only loss away to South Africa by one point) and retained the Bledisloe Cup. A successful European tour saw comfortable victories against England, France twice and Wales. McCaw was captain in every match and after being short listed in 2002, 2003 and 2005 was named the 2006 IRB International Player of the Year.
Because 2007 was a World Cup year, All Black management decided that a select group of 22 players, including McCaw, would undergo "reconditioning" by not playing in the first seven rounds of the Super 14. McCaw returned to the Crusaders in the eighth round and helped them reach the semi-finals. New Zealand then beat a below-strength France team in two tests and won a one-off test against Canada. McCaw started on the bench for the Canadian match, with Reuben Thorne returning as captain. The Tri Nations was shortened because of the World Cup, with each team playing the other two teams twice (one home and one away game). Led by McCaw, New Zealand again dropped just one game (this time a five point loss against Australia in Melbourne) retaining the Tri Nations crown and the Bledisloe cup.
2007 World Cup
The 2007 World Cup was held in France, England, Scotland and Wales. The All Blacks were in a pool that included Italy, Portugal, Scotland and Romania. The All Blacks comfortably made it through the pool play with scores of 76–14, 108–13, 40–0 and 85–8 respectively. McCaw made just three appearances (two starts and one as a reserve) due to Henry's rotation policy. In the quarter-finals the All Blacks lost to France 18–20, resulting in New Zealand's earliest exit from a World Cup. With semi-final exits after being among the favourites at the 1991, 1999 and 2003 World Cups, they were once again accused of "choking on the world's biggest stage".
An emotional McCaw could not hide his disappointment at the after-match press conference: "If I knew the answers we would have sorted it out. We will be thinking about it for a long time". McCaw denied New Zealand's easy run into the quarter-finals played a part in the loss "A lot of the guys have been through this before, they've played big test matches." Graham Henry's policy of using squad rotation and resting key players during the Super 14 was criticised. McCaw also came under attack. He was accused of not inspiring his team, lacking the ability to change policy when plan A was not working and not providing enough leadership on the field.
Despite much speculation that Henry would lose the All Black coaching job to Crusaders coach Robbie Deans, he was retained on a contract for the next two years, later extended to include the 2011 World Cup. He immediately stated that he would retain McCaw as his captain. Robbie Deans instead signed with the Australian Rugby Union, becoming head coach of Australia. In Deans' last season (2008) as Crusaders coach they won the Super Rugby title for the seventh time. Ireland and England toured to New Zealand in June 2008 and the All Blacks came away with a hard-fought win against Ireland, and two comfortable victories against England. McCaw tore a ligament in his ankle against England and missed the start of the Tri Nations.
Rodney So'oialo was made stand-in captain and started the Tri Nations with a win and two losses. McCaw returned for the fourth game and the All Blacks won the remaining three matches to retain the Tri Nations title and Bledisloe Cup. McCaw was seen as an inspiration after his return from injury, with Henry rating his performance in the victory in the 19–0 win in South Africa (the first time the South Africans had been kept scoreless on home soil in 105 years) as his best so far for the All Blacks.
In 2008 a fourth Bledisloe match was played in Hong Kong with the intention of expanding the game of rugby and in a close 19–14 game McCaw scored the match winning try. The Grand Slam tour to the United Kingdom resulted in victories over Scotland (32–6), Ireland (22–3), Wales (29–9) and England (32–6). During 2008 McCaw won every test he captained and a total of 26 out of 28 games he played in at all levels. The All Blacks won 13 of a record 15 tests, retained the Bledisloe Cup and Tri Nations Trophy, completed the Grand Slam and reclaimed the world No. 1 ranking from South Africa.
The Crusaders, under new coach Todd Blackadder, had a slow start to the 2009 season, losing four of their first five games. They recovered to finish fourth on the table, losing the semi-final at Loftus Versfeld to the Bulls. McCaw injured his knee and missed the start of the international season, returning for the Tri Nations tournament. South Africa beat the All Blacks in every match to win the title and regain the number 1 ranking, with New Zealand beating Australia three times to finish second. It was the first time New Zealand had not won the competition in five years and the fifth time since the Tri Nations started in 1996. A fourth Bledisloe Test agains Australia was played in Japan before New Zealand toured Europe. Although New Zealand won every match on tour, an earlier loss to France and three defeats by the South Africans were the most suffered by the All Blacks in a season since McCaw joined the team in 2001. Despite the team's relatively poor season, McCaw was named the IRB International Player of the Year for a second time.
The 2010 season started in much the same way with the Crusaders finishing fourth during the round robin stage and losing to the Bulls in the semi-final. During the season McCaw played his 100th Super Rugby game in a losing effort against the Cape Town based Stormers. New Zealand recorded victories over the touring Ireland and Wales teams, Ireland losing their match by a record 66–28 after number eight Jamie Heaslip received a red card for kneeing McCaw in the head. The All Blacks went through the Tri Nations undefeated with the final game of the tournament against Australia marking McCaw's 52nd time captaining the All Blacks, surpassing Sean Fitzpatrick as New Zealand's most-capped test captain.
The fourth Bledisloe Cup match was again scheduled for Hong Kong and Australia ended a ten match losing streak to the All Blacks. It was to be the only loss the All Blacks would suffer that season as they went on to win another Grand Slam tour, defeating England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. In the match against Ireland McCaw, along with team mate Mils Muliaina played in their 93rd test match passing Sean Fitzpatrick to become the most capped All Blacks. At the end of year McCaw was named the IRB International Player of the Year for the second successive season and the New Zealand sportsperson of the year at the Halberg awards.