Upon Richie McCaw’s retirement from rugby last month at age 34, London’s Telegraph noted that New Zealand’s openside flanker and captain was “renowned for his physical turnover work around the breakdown area.” Of course, what exactly that might mean is about as comprehensible to most American sports fans as the NFL’s definition of a catch to people in Christchurch. Christchurch, Virginia, that is.
In most ways McCaw’s story is a universal one: a farm boy who emerged from a small town of a few hundred (Kurow, pop. 339) to become a national hero. Phil Waugh, a longtime Australian opponent, was far from alone when he hailed McCaw as “the best rugby player of all time.”
McCaw debuted for New Zealand’s All Blacks in 2001 at age 20, and over the next 14 years—as his powerful, 6'2" and 234-pound body accumulated bruises and scars from the most brutal of sports—his legend only grew. He played in more international Test caps (148) than anyone in rugby history, winning a remarkable 131 of them. He was named World Rugby Player of the Year a record three times and became an international celebrity despite being fairly unknown in the U.S., even receiving an invitation to the 2011 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middelton.
On Oct. 31, McCaw led the All Blacks to a 34–17 victory over Australia in the Rugby World Cup final, making New Zealand the first back-to-back champion in the quadrennial tournament’s 28-year history. “I’m hanging up my boots having accomplished everything I could have ever dreamed about in the game,” McCaw said. Next up? A possible career as a commercial helicopter pilot. It seems there are always more boyhood fantasies to be fulfilled, even for Richie McCaw.