As Richie McCaw returned to New Zealand this week as the most successful captain of the modern era we begin a series of extracts from The Real McCaw: The Autobiography.
In the first extract the future All Black is sitting around in a McDonald's restaurant with some of his family, including Uncle Bigsy, who looks at the training programme Richie has been given after being selected for New Zealand U-19 trials.
He scrutinised it carefully. "You want to be in the New Zealand Under 19s," he said. "Do you want to be an All Black?"
He took out a pen, smoothed out a table napkin. "Let's map out how you become an All Black."
I was a bit fazed, I felt lucky to be given a trial for the Under 19s, thought I was only there because our school First XV had had a great year. But with his encouragement, I told him that this coming year, when I embarking on a Bachelor of Agricultural Science degree in Lincoln University in Christchurch, I wanted to make the New Zealand Under 19s, then the Canterbury Under 19s, then next year the New Zealand Colts.
Uncle Bigsy wrote it all down, kept prompting me. "Then what?"
I listed the Canterbuty Under 21s, the Canterbury team, and he insisted I put a target year beside each of the teams that I needed to make. We worked out that after the 2003 Rugby World Cup there'd be a bit of a clean-out in the All Blacks and there'd be guys going overseas, so I might make the Crusaders then and maybe the All Blacks after that, maybe 2004.
"All Blacks 2004," wrote Uncle Bigsy.
I was keeping my voice down, aware that this was all pie in the sky given that I hadn't yet made a national age-group team, but Uncle Bigsy wasn't finished. "You don't just want to be an All Black," he said, "you want to be a great All Black."
What could I say? Who wouldn't? So I nodded, and he wrote that down too, then pushed the napkin over and gave me a pen. "Sign it," he said. "Sign it Great All Black".
I was hoping no one would overhear him - Dad had already taken himself outside for a walk. I looked at the list Uncle Bigsy had constructed. It was a stairway to rugby heaven all right, but looked more like fantasy than a legitimate aspiration for someone like me. "Sign it," he said.
I couldn't bring myself to write the words Great All Black, so I wrote G.A.B.
Photo of Uncle Bigsy on the charge for Canterbuty 1982 (by Hodder Moa)
Taken from The Real McCaw by Richie McCaw, published by Aurum Press.
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