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Retiring New Zealand captain Richie McCaw hailed as all-time rugby great

By Robert Jones

New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen led the tributes to Richie McCaw after the history-making All Blacks captain announced his retirement from rugby.

The 34-year-old openside flanker has decided to hang up his boots after becoming the first man to lift the Webb Ellis Cup twice by leading his country to their second successive World Cup triumph last month.

McCaw’s retirement had been expected after the All Blacks became the first team in World Cup history to successfully defend their title and he confirmed his decision in Wellington yesterday — the day after Jonah Lomu’s death.

Lomu died at the age of 40 and there was a minute’s silence for the former New Zealand wing at the opening of McCaw’s press conference.

McCaw, who paid tribute to rugby “legend” Lomu during his farewell announcement, said: “I thought about whether it was the right thing to do this.

“But I’m going to be hanging up my boots. I sit here with no regrets as a rugby player. That last game was pretty satisfying.

“I’m hugely excited about the future. I have a couple of things in mind. I learned to fly helicopters in 2009 and that’s going to be my thing from now. It’s something I’m passionate about.”

Hansen said: “On behalf of the All Blacks, we want to congratulate Richie on everything he has achieved in his career. All this success couldn’t have happened to a better bloke and we wish him all the very best for the future.

“He will go down not only as the greatest All Black of all time, but the greatest captain we have ever had and possibly the greatest player to have ever played the game in the modern era.

“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.

“His ability as a leader will be something he will be remembered for. Leadership doesn’t come naturally, it’s a learned skill.

“He’s been an inspiration to us all. Not only has he enhanced the jersey during his time, but he has left a lasting legacy.”

Renowned for his physical turnover work around the breakdown area, McCaw reinvented the role of the openside flanker in modern rugby as he combined brute strength and reading the game with more traditional handling dexterity and defensive skills.

He made his Test debut against Ireland at Lansdowne Road in November 2001 and was named man of the match in New Zealand’s 40-29 victory.

He was voted Newcomer of the Year by the International Rugby Players’ Association the following year and was named All Blacks captain for the first time in 2004, when Tana Umaga was rested.

Having helped New Zealand to a 3-0 series win over the British and Irish Lions in 2005, McCaw was appointed captain in May 2006 at the age of 25. He was named IRB International Player of the Year in 2006 and also won the award in 2009 and 2010.

McCaw helped the All Blacks end their 24-year wait for rugby’s biggest prize on home soil in 2011.

He won his 100th cap in that tournament but decided to stay on for another four years to lead New Zealand’s title defence in England.

He won 131 of the Tests he played with two draws and 15 losses, and scored 27 tries.

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