Lavish praise for Richie McCaw hard earned and fully deserved
Sport is often littered with ham-fisted hyperbole - but Richie McCaw bucks the trend as a rugby union superstar who deserves every ounce of praise lavished upon him.
Almost three weeks after New Zealand won a second successive World Cup with McCaw at the helm, the 34-year-old's retirement announcement might have been widely expected, yet it still leaves a feeling of sadness that he will no longer grace a game he has transcended for so long.
The McCaw statistics tell their own story. In his case, they never lied.
He won a world record 148 Test caps - on 131 of those occasions he was victorious - he captained the All Blacks a world record 110 times, he is a three-time world player of the year and he stands alone as a two-time World Cup-winning skipper.
Of the 17 nations he played against during a 14-year international career, McCaw ended up on the losing team against just four - England, South Africa, Australia and France - while he experienced Test match defeat only twice on New Zealand soil from 61 appearances.
So when New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen describes McCaw as "the greatest All Black of all time, the greatest captain we have ever had and possibly the greatest player to have ever played the game in the modern era," they are words to digest and repeat. Hansen is not wrong.
McCaw wore the All Blacks number seven shirt with distinction, so much so that 007 might have been a more appropriate recognition of his repeated match-winning deeds, and few players in rugby history had a greater ability to be the dominant figure in a game.
McCaw's longevity at the highest level is remarkable in itself, but to have played for so long with such effect in arguably rugby union's most punishing position - openside flanker - sets him apart.
He was king of the breakdown, that critical component which often dictates Test match outcomes, and even though others might now be candidates for his throne - notably Australia star David Pocock and Wales captain Sam Warburton - McCaw delivered trailblazing standards of supremacy when it came to securing turnover ball for his team.
Among the many glowing tributes paid to McCaw was one from former South Africa skipper Jean de Villiers, who stepped down from Test rugby after being injured during the World Cup barely two months ago.
"We all know that at some stage we will have to hang up our boots and say goodbye to this game we love so much," "Leicester-bound De Villiers told www.sarugby.net.
"All we then have left are memories, and Richie can be immensely proud of the memories he has helped create on and off the field.
"He has been superb. What he has achieved on the field, as an individual and as captain of the All Blacks, is nothing short of unbelievable. The whole of New Zealand can be very proud of him.
"Richie will probably go down as the best who has ever played this game, and his achievements will last forever."
Identifying the greatest of all-time in any sport is a demanding assignment, and rugby union is no exception.
But given that the game is more physically-demanding than ever before, the position McCaw played in and his staggering success-rate across so many Test matches, then number seven probably is the number one.
As Hansen said: "To play 148 Tests is something to be marvelled at on its own, particularly with the physical demands of the position he plays.
"But the more impressive thing about those 148 games is the quality of the performances he produced. Having been involved in the majority of those Test matches, I can't recall him ever playing a bad game."