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'I know what it's like': How Richie McCaw's 'selfless' leadership rubbed off on a debutant

By Ned Lester
Brodie Retallick and Richie McCaw. (Photo by Steve Christo/Corbis via Getty Images)

Having logged the most Test caps as captain in rugby history, one might expect Richie McCaw’s leadership skills to be fairly impressive, but rarely do we hear any specific example of his greatness in action.


James Parsons’ All Blacks debut was against Scotland in 2014 and came under the reign of Richie, the hooker recalled an interaction during the match that left a lasting impression on him.

The story came about on RugbyPassThe Aotearoa Rugby Pod as Parsons and commentary great Grant Nisbet discussed their favourite All Blacks of all time.

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“I got presented my jersey by Richie,” Parsons said. “My first jersey so I’m fairly fond of him and the way I hold him in high regard, for the era I came through.

“I stuffed up a lineout on debut and he was the jumper, and he came up to me at the next scrum and he was like ‘mate, I was a bit slow across the ground’ and so all of a sudden, my debut, I’m like ‘beauty! that’s not my fault, skip’s got me!’ and packed down for the scrum.

“And after the game he goes ‘mate, I know what it’s like’ – this is the level of leadership and thought he had – he’s like ‘I wanted to take the pressure off you but it was overthrown so let’s just have a look at that during the week and rectify it’.

“I just thought that’s amazing, in a pressure situation, Test match, he has the ability to know that I needed that pressure relieved to get the best out of me for the rest of the game. It’s just things like that you’ve got to admire, he is quite a selfless player.”



McCaw’s career saw him claim two World Cup titles, seven Tri-Nations/Rugby Championship titles and 10 Bledisloe Cup series. For the Crusaders, he won four Super Rugby titles, three of which he was captain for.

Grant Nisbet delivered the name of the player who he believes to be the best he has witnessed in the 300 Test matches he’s commentated.

“I’ve been lucky enough to see some of the great All Blacks, If I’m asked a name like greatest ever All Black who I saw, it’s always Christian Cullen. He was an absolute freak. An absolute freak.”


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Christ 413 days ago

my old brother watched Christian Cullen try against the Wallabies after catching a pass from Zinzan Brooke. my brother said that guy is a freak, so, agreed with Grant Nisbet

peter_qld 415 days ago

He was a thinking man's Captain. In Carter's book released around 8 years ago, Carter explained what Richie did after losing the 2007 WRC. He came up with what he wanted from the players, presented it to the older leadership group and got their agreeance. Then to the whole team and got them to agree. One of the things he put a stop to was the drinking culture. That could not have been easy. He pushed the team to a level of personal professionalism that few Captains ever do and in so doing led by example.

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Shaylen 6 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

These guys will be utility players Nick it cannot be helped because coaches cannot help themselves. Rassie looks at players like these and sees the ability to cover multiple positions without losing much. It allows the 6-2 or 7-1. He wont change his coaching style or strategy for one player. At provincial level players like these are indispensable. If there is an injury to your starting 12 but your back up 12 is a bit iffy then a coach is going to go with the back up 10 who is gold and who can play a good 12. Damian Willemse for the Springboks is an obvious case, for the Stormers its the same. Dobson plays him at 12 or 15, with Gelant in the team he plays 12 but if Gelant goes down he doesnt go for his back up 15, he just puts Willemse there. With Frawley its the same at international and provincial level. He just slots in wherever. Frans Steyn made a career out of it. He was much maligned though as a youngster as he never fully developed into any role. He then went to Japan and France to decide for himself what kind of player he was, put on muscle and retained his big boot, ran over players and booted the ball long and came back into the Springboks after about 3 years away and was then certain about how he wanted to play the game no matter what position. Coaches cannot help themselves because they only want what is best for their teams and that means putting your most talented players on even if it means you cause them some discomfort. Sometimes players need to decide how they want to play the game and then adapt that to every position and let the coach decide how they want to use them.

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