Oval Talk

McCaw sabbatical shows the way

Oval Talk

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New Zealand's Richie McCaw

Richie McCaw's decision to take a sabbatical from rugby is a refreshing display of forward-thinking from one of the modern game's greats.

On hearing the news, it might be easy to start wondering if it's the beginning of the end of one of the most accomplished, decorated and admired careers of recent years.

However  the time out could enable rugby fans to see the 31-year-old remain at the top of his game for much longer than would have been possible without such a respite.

European fans will get the chance to see one of the best-ever openside flankers in action just before he commences his sabbatical. McCaw will lead New Zealand on its end-of-season tour in November and December when it will play tests against England, Wales, Scotland and Italy, after which he will take a well-deserved break.

It's a logical step for McCaw, which was negotiated into his contract with the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) when he extended his agreement with them until 2015. Indeed it was a major factor in retaining McCaw's presence in his homeland as he passed up potentially more lucrative offers elsewhere.

After spending much of last year's Super Rugby competition out injured, he had surgery on his foot after carrying the injury through the All Blacks' triumphant 2011 World Cup campaign and only returned to action in April.

Since then he has been in fine form for both the Canterbury Crusaders and the ABs, but it's always the way with players of the immense talent and ability of McCaw that they can play through injury seemingly unaffected by the demands placed on their body, only to feel the full effect either later in their playing days - or after a career that has been shortened by resultant physical limitations.

What had been an option in his contract will now be enforced as confirmed by Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder, who pledged his full support to a player who has truly earned the right to undertake such an endeavour.

"It is definitely going to happen. He will probably be available after June. He won't be available for the tests or Super Rugby, so he's going to get a good break," said Blackadder of McCaw.

"We've worked this through with all parties and I fully support it. He had it written into his contract and he's elected to take it. It will freshen him up and he'll come back and be good for the next couple of years."

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen backed up that stance, explaining that a rested and refreshed McCaw would only aid New Zealand's attempt to retain the World Cup in three years' time.

"If we want to get him through to the (2015) World Cup, it's a good idea. The Super 15 is a tough competition. For someone like Richie to step out of that, he obviously thinks it's pertinent, hence why it's in his contract," said Hansen.

"Richie is smart enough to know what his body needs," Hansen added, and few would disagree with that.

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