Richie McCaw, is a man who needs no introduction, New Zealand’s 1014th All Black went on to become the greatest rugby player of all time (no need to use arguably here) McCaw had one hell of a career spanning over 14-years, where he played 148 matches for New-Zealand, captaining the All Blacks in an astonishing 110 of those 148 matches.
Fittingly for the world’s greatest rugby player his career ended on 31 October 2015 where he led New Zealand to a 2nd world cup victory, a feat no other player has managed to do.
This could be a post reflecting back over the life and achievements of the man we call Richie McCaw but then again, rugby supporters from the United States to Japan are all too familiar with this legend of a man’s achievements. Richie McCaw was both the Michael Jordan and Joe Montana of rugby and then so much more.
This post focus on New Zealand, post the McCaw area, needless to say the footsteps McCaw left in the New Zealand rugby annuals runs deeper than any other of the 1014 All Black capped before him. The loss of the McCaw factor is yet to fully sink in for the All Blacks, a delay of the inevitable if you like, they have not yet been in action ever since 31 October and with the Rugby Championship around the corner, Steve Hansen is tasked with the impossible….finding the next Richie McCaw. Will there ever be a player like him? We doubt it however, this post will look at possible candidates that could take over the number 7 jersey in the post McCaw era.
Filling The Void At Openside
The land of the long white cloud, has a long tradition of consistently producing some the best players to ever step on a rugby pitch, think Sean Fitzpatrick, Justin Marshall, Jonah Lomu, Kevin Milanu, the list can go on.
The problem is we are talking about a, man machine here, Sir Richie McCaw. So while New Zealand currently has a long line of loose forwards who could easily step into most nations starting line ups, being tasked to step into McCaw’s position for the best rugby team in the world is
slightly much more challenging.
With that being said someone will have to step up and take over that sacred No7 jersey, the pressure will be immense and the comparison will be relentless, however it is something that needs to be done, and a lot of the All Blacks future success will depend on how smooth the open side transition will be in a post McCaw era.
Before we get down to who might get tasked with the most difficult job in world sport, it is important to consider which characteristics, Hansen and his selection committee will be looking for when trying to find a successor. We believe Hansen will be looking for the following criteria and qualities.
- Leadership – All players who ever played in the presence of McCaw agree his greatest quality was his leadership, both on and off the field. Players were never scared of him but he carried such an aura about him that player’s would go to astonishing lengths to not disappoint him. McCaw’s auro lifted the team both morally and physically which played such a large part in the All Blacks dominance in the past decade. That Leadership void now needs to get filled and it will be one if the first qualities the selection committee will dot down, when tasked with finding a successor.
- Understanding Of The Game – What made McCaw good was the fact that he understood the game better than any other player to have ever played with an oval ball before him. The countless debates which spanned over the years about McCaw getting away with murder at the breakdowns was not because McCaw was a cheat, or that referee’s were scared to ping him at the break. No, it was simply due to the fact that McCaw understood the game and its’ laws so well that he always managed to play in between that “grey” area borderlining on the illegal but not conclusive enough to pin him for illegalities.
- Experience & Age – In the (impossible) pursuit of finding the next Richie McCaw, the All Blacks selection committee should look at a player who is young (around 23-years of age) who already has a few caps to his name. We say this because of two reasons. Firstly, you certainly don’t want an inexperienced player to take over the Number-7 jersey from McCaw, regardless of how much promise such a player might have shown, we say this because the pressure and comparisons will be relentless, which just might break an upcoming players career, which is not fair to that player. Secondly we mention age, since you want a player who is young enough to still evolve and grow, leaving him a chance to fill as much of the steps the great man left as humanly possible.
So with the above taken into consideration soon the All Black selection committee will get together to discuss the inevitable, if we could be a fly on the wall in those meetings we believe the following names will get discussed at great lengths.
Sam Cane: At only 24-years old the Chiefs flanker boasts a wealth of experience. Cane has played 71-caps for his Super Rugby franchise, The Chiefs, but perhaps more importantly he has been part of the New-Zealand setup for the past 4-years, making his debut at the age of only 20.
Cane has shown great leadership ability and has even captained the All Blacks, once during the 2015 World Cup, a tournament which he contributed greatly towards the All Blacks success. Cane understands Steven Hansen’s coaching methodology and Hansen trust Cane as a player having rewarded him with 31 caps.
While it is unfair to compare anyone to the great Richie McCaw, when forced to compare Cane to McCaw their playing style is not all that different, Cane is superb in the loose while being equally good on and off the ball. Truly a well rounded player who has shown leadership qualities well beyond his years.
Kieran Read: The frontrunner, and in all probability the next All Black captain. There is no denying Read is good, infact he is superb, but in the same sentence we believe Read has peaked and, although still superb, is on a slow downhill ever since being named as IRB player of the year in 2013.
A further problem with the selection of Read to lead the most successful team in international sport, is the fact that he does not tick all the boxes in our selection criteria mentioned above.
Turning 31 on 26 October Read will be nearly 36 years old when Japan 2019 arrives, does the All Blacks really want to find themselves in the same situation South Africa found themselves in a few years back with the John Smith captaincy debacle?
Furthermore Read’s best position is at the back of the scrum, not at the side, which will still leave a void at Number 7, the best way for Steve Hansen to utilize Read would be in a mentorship role, slowly paving the way for the next generation of Read’s and McCaw’s.
Steven Luatua: Luatua burst onto the scene in 2012 experiencing a dream Super Rugby debut season and was richly rewarded with his efforts the following year with an All Black call up. Luatua is a versatile player, being able to cover the back and side of the scrum and even lock when needed.
Luatua is a much different player than the players we mentioned above though, Luatua is much more of a ball player, running gaps and making offloads compared to actively getting involved in the tighter stuff. However, being only 24-years old and already having 14-caps under his name, we believe Luatua can go on and leave a lasting legacy.
The only problem? Is Luatua a leader? Also can he consistently deliver world class performances week in and week out? Then again if someone like Kieran Read can take him under his mantle in preparation for Japan 2019, Luatua does not seem such a crazy choice afterall.
Luke Whitelock: The youngest of the awesome 4-some, Luke Whitelock is a firm favourite amongst Crusaders supporters, having won well in excess of 50-caps for Super Rugby’s most successful franchise, having bursted onto the scene in 2012. Luke Whitelock has been acquired by the Highlanders for the 2016 Super Rugby where he will hope to further expand his impressive Super Rugby resume.
Luke Whitelock’s success started well before 2012 though having won not one, but two Under 20 World Cup’s for the Baby Blacks in 2010 and 2011. Whitelock also captained the Baby Blacks to World Cup glory in 2011, so the leadership qualities are there.
With that being said having been on the international rugby scene for well over 4-years Luke Whitelock, at the age of 25 has only won a single test cap for the All Blacks which came way back in 2013.
The above likely indicates that either Hansen does not have to much confidence in Luke Whitelock as a player, or that he is perhaps, well…not good enough to play in one of the most competitive positions in international rugby. Whatever the case might be Super Rugby 2016 will play a large part in determining where Luke Whitelock All Black aspirations takes him.
Having proven that he has the leadership abilities and certainly being no slouch on the side of the scrum, at the age of only 25 Whitelock can still go on to become one of the best All Blacks to have played the game.
Conclusion – New Zealand Selectors in For Some Long Nights
So there you have it folks the above are the 4-players the team at Sport Freak believe is the most likely to take over the number-7 jersey from Richie McCaw. Sure, not everyone might agree with the names we mentioned however, all will agree that filling the void Richie McCaw left might never get filled, it is hard to see how there will ever be a player quite like him again.
Did we miss a name? Do you think there is possibly a better candidate to take over the New Zealand 7 jersey? Vote in our poll and drop us a comment below.
About the Author: Johno is the Chief Rugby Blogger at the Sport Freak – Follow him on Twitter to stay up to date with the latest happenings in the world of rugby, player interviews and expert opinions.