Hang in there Rich, Kiwis say, as aches and pains set in

Saturday, 26 July 2014 Written by  New Zealand Herald

He'll be on the wrong end of 34 if he makes next year's Rugby World Cup squad but most New Zealanders say All Blacks captain Richie McCaw should play on, a survey shows. A Herald-DigiPoll survey showed that 61.8 per cent of respondents wanted to see McCaw finish this season and play on as long as he can.

The figure is more than double that of those who say the All Blacks great should hang up his boots.

McCaw will run out on to AMI Stadium tonight wearing the No6 jersey against the Sharks in the Super Rugby semifinal as he returns from a rib injury.

If he gets through this year's duties and next season unscathed, and starts against Argentina at Wembley Stadium in the All Blacks' opening match at next year's Rugby World Cup tournament, he will be 34 years and 263 days old.

His predecessor, flanker Josh Kronfeld, said McCaw had been fortunate not to suffer too many serious injuries in his career, but niggles were starting to catch up.

"The thing that's affecting him at the moment is that he's not really getting a swing of games, he needs a couple of games under his belt.

"He's just starting to find that swagger and form, and then he gets another injury and he's out again and that's kind of been the last couple of years."

Kronfeld, who played his last test aged 29 years and 60 days, said staying motivated and injury-free late in his playing career would probably remain among McCaw's big challenges.

"I know for myself, at 33, I thought: 'No I'm over this'.

"When you're at Richie's age and playing at that intensity the turnaround gets harder. Typically, a week turnaround is a piece of cake but as you get older, it's more a week and a half — the Thursday or Friday before the game is when you start feeling 100 per cent again."

He said McCaw was an exceptional player still doing brilliant things on the field but was possibly being judged harshly by observers.

"If you have a whole team looking out for you ... in my time they had people showing up to referees with laptops to show them what I was doing illegally — how can you compete against that? You can't.

"Richie without doubt will have that happening, you're not just competing against your age, but youth and 15 other guys who want you to fail."

Kronfeld questioned a shift to the blindside for McCaw as Michael Jones did late in his career. He said the impact of Jerome Kaino, Liam Messam and Steven Luatua was too good to ignore.

He said McCaw making next year's Rugby World Cup was a question only the captain could answer.

"I think the coaches dearly want him there but if you have a young guy who is really performing, and some of them are, how much do you negate the opportunity of them missing out on something special because you're looking after Richie?

"It's a difficult trade-off."