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McCaw offers deep look at his career

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Sportal.co.nz     23 Oct 2012     Getty Images

For many years the Colin Meads All Black by Alex Veysey reigned supreme as the finest of the genre, and then Graham Mourie's story by Ron Palenski took the form of the book to a new level.

Richie McCaw – The Open Side with Greg McGee. Published by Hodder Moa.Reviewed by Lynn McConnell, Sportal.co.nz

But the latest contribution to the library of understanding has been boosted by a contender for the best yet about the player who may just be the finest New Zealand has produced – Richie McCaw.

The man who seems to find himself the target of Australian cheap shot artists is the subject of 'The Open Side' written with Greg McGee, playwright and former Junior All Black and NZ Universities loose forward.

It's a fine combination and the empathy they achieved is reflected in the book which does so much more in satisfying, and understanding, the dynamics that allowed New Zealand to claim the Rugby World Cup last year. That is in direct contrast to the book about the coach of the side who seemed to be on a mission to keep everything under wraps.

Not so McCaw. He has been unstinting in describing the intense pain he went through to lead the side to glory while playing on one foot. It brought to mind the situation in the latter years of cricketer Martin Crowe's career when his dodgy knee cut short his time at the crease. On one leg he was still the best batsman in the New Zealand side, and so it was with McCaw.

The pain of missing out on the World Cup in Cardiff in 2007 was clearly a powerful motivation for him to remain at the helm and his handling of the pain, pressure and performance is superbly caught in the book's final pages.

But this is not a story confined to the World Cup. It is a splendid compilation of all the influences that have shaped the man who will go down as one of the finest of captains the game has produced. Although it is difficult to believe that he needed to swear as much as seems to be apparent in the book. Former All Blacks captain BJ Lochore said one of the earliest lessons he received after assuming the captaincy was from team manager Charlie Saxton who told him he didn't think he needed to swear so much to get his message across.

Family background, country upbringing, scholastic success and soaring solitude in his much-loved glider made for a rounded individual to suggest McCaw had Rhodes Scholar written all over him had he decided to pursue the course that his New Zealand World Cup-winning predecessor David Kirk took.

McCaw hasn't been afraid to reveal some of the background efforts to get to grips with the World Cup failures, including a seminar on leadership where Brisbane Broncos coach Wayne Bennett provided a stunning discourse.

But possibly the most outstanding contribution McCaw has made is in a chapter titled 'Survival of the fittest' where he takes an in-depth look at the position that he has dominated like no other in modern rugby, open-side flanker. It has been a position clouded by constant change as the law-makers attempt to tidy up one of the most confusing areas of the game.

Not that you would think McCaw has been affected. However, he has had his frustrations in coping but as time has gone by he has lived by the rule: 'You make 'em, I'll play 'em'.

"I'm used to adapting as I go along, because every year, it seems, someone else comes up with a bright idea to 'modify' or 'reinterpret' the much-maligned tackled ball rule...I make sure I know the new rules inside out, that I've got a full understanding of exactly what they are, not just because I'm captain and might need to make representations to the referee from time to time, but also for the requirements of my own position," he wrote.

"From week to week, I'm consciously thinking about ways to have an impact. I want to make it as difficult as i can for them, whether it's our ball or theirs. I either do that through how I tackle, if I can wrap the ball up, or where I end up, and a lot of that is mental, thinking through scenarios, visualising what might happen."

It is interesting to note that McCaw refers to going through the motions by himself at times, something which might look strange to observers, but he put it down to doing the same thing as a child when he had no-one to train with. Brings to mind a certain great Australian batsman using a wicket to hit a golf ball for hour after hour against a water tank in the Bush.

McCaw also reveals how much emphasis he placed on noting his observations in an exercise book and how often he referred to it. That parallels the handbook in which former Black Sox captain Mark Sorenson, probably the greatest softballer New Zealand has produced, in which he kept details of every pitcher he ever faced to refer to when facing them in future games.

It all comes down to preparation and understanding, and it doesn't matter the sport, talented individuals only succeed when they work as hard as possible at their game. McCaw has demonstrated that on the field, and in his book. He has done a massive service to the game in his presentation.