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The physical punishment Richie McCaw took from South Africa in the 2015 semi-final

By Sam Smith
(Source/World Rugby)

The 2015 Rugby World Cup was Richie McCaw’s last hurrah in his storied career as he led the All Blacks to historic back-to-back World Cup victories.

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The All Blacks had to beat the Springboks in the semi-final to keep their hopes alive and they faced off against a vaunted South African pack that included Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Burger and Francois Louw in the back row.

There was no shortage of physicality as other Springbok forwards like a young Eben Etzebeth and enforcer Bismarck du Plessis brought fear in the tight five. One of the biggest hitters in international rugby was also on the bench, in Springbok loose forward Willem Alberts.

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McCaw and his All Black pack had to rise up to the challenge to one of the most imposing South African forward packs in recent memory.

The All Black captain got his side after a fast start after setting up Jerome Kaino for an early try in the corner, but as the Springboks accumulated penalty goals a tight tussle ensued.

McCaw had to take significant punishment at the ruck as the Bok pack tried to manhandle the All Black leader to prevent him from spoiling their ball.

At one point Du Plessis jumped on McCaw’s back and got him in a headlock while he was preventing Louw from pilfering the ball.

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In one brilliant steal, McCaw snatched the ball from under the nose of No 8 Vermeulen who was too slow to start his clean out after Damian de Allende placed the ball.

The openside made a rock solid tackle on Adriaan Strauss, stopping the hard-running hooker dead in his tracks while bystander Etzebeth tried to remove McCaw from the tackle but couldn’t. The collapsed tackle ended in another turnover won for McCaw.

The Bok frustration become clear as the match wore on with prop Jannie du Plessis losing his cool at one point, flapping his arms in attempt to push him away before slamming into his back.

After the heroic 20-18 victory McCaw became embroiled in controversy after a supposed elbow to Francois Lous, sparking a media circus over whether he would be suspended for the World Cup final.

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A bloodied Louw required 20 stitches to his forehead to fix up the two wounds but the Springbok flanker was unsure of how his injury occurred, stating: “I’m not sure, I think it was at the bottom of a ruck”.

If deemed deliberate, McCaw could have been charged with striking with the elbow which carried a two-week suspension at the time.

In a column for Stuff in defence of the All Black captain, Kiwi writer Duncan Johnstone said that Louw was ‘accidentally clipped’ and called the media circus ‘insulting’.

“There are two things you can expect the moment the All Blacks step foot in Britain – the haka will be questioned and McCaw will be labelled a cheat,” he wrote.

“A look at the evidence shows McCaw’s full focus is on the ball carrier as he comes around the back of a ruck.

“Louw finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time to be accidentally clipped.

“To suggest McCaw would attack a defenceless player with his elbow is simply insulting.”

The often-vilified openside, who took his fair share of punishment from the opposition, escaped sanction and was free to play out his final test in the Rugby World Cup final against Australia.

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