As Richie McCaw finally lifted the Rugby World Cup in 2011 he described the feeling as emerging into the light from the four year tunnel he had been in since the despair of the 2007 Rugby World Cup. His autobiography, ‘Richie McCaw: The Open Side’, or ‘The Real McCaw: The Autobiography of Richie McCaw’ outside of New Zealand and Australia, was released on the 9th of October, 2012. It is written with Greg McGee, a New Zealand writer and playwright.
The book tells the story of the four years beginning in the dismay of the quarter final defeat at Cardiff and what it took to find the light: the joy of winning the final at Eden Park. Along the way the story flashes back to periods outside those four years, for example growing up in Oamaru, going to boarding school, Otago Boys’ High School in Dunedin, signing with Canterbury and the Crusaders and how he got into flying and gliding. These memories are seamlessly incorporated into the main story arc in such a way that it feels organic. For example, after the quarter final defeat he sought to console himself with an impressive new glider, originally intended as a Rugby World Cup reward. As he inspects the glider the story flashes back to how he first got into flying and why he loves it.
This approach differs from most autobiographies, which tend to take a largely linear approach. The books usually start at the subject’s childhood and gradually moves forward until the story intersects the point in time where they had actually entered the reader’s consciousness. This is generally the point at which reader really wants to get to. Often this leads to restlessness for the reader, who wants to get to the juicy parts of the story as soon as possible. This is not the case with McCaw’s book. From the outset readers will be engrossed in the story, and the flash backs do exactly what we want them to do, add understanding and perspective to what made McCaw the man he is.
Of course, other than seeking an understanding of how McCaw’s younger years shaped who he is, what we really want is the insight into his playing experiences, especially the inside word of what the world of professional rugby is really like, particularly the people in it. McCaw doesn’t pull any punches here. He gives it to the readers in the same upfront and straightforward way that we have come to expect from him in post match interviews.
It always raises questions when sportspersons release an autobiography while still in their playing career, particularly when they play in team sports. Firstly, there is the issue of the story not being over, particularly not the part of the story readers want to hear about. Secondly, how many punches need to be pulled in order to keep their careers sustainable with coaches and teammates? McCaw gets around these two issues by securely phrasing the book within that four year journey between world cups. No, McCaw’s story is not over, but that chapter is and the world, particularly in New Zealand, has an insatiable appetite for insight into the dramatic world cup quest.
It remains to be seen if McCaw has burned any bridges by releasing a book during his playing career. It is unlikely though, considering the esteem in which he is held and the matter of fact way he tells his story. He treats the people in his book as humans, not villains, and is just as likely to point the finger at himself as anyone else. However, McCaw doesn’t shy away from telling it like it is and there is likely to be at least a little fallout.
Credit must go to Greg McGee for making Richie McCaw: The Open Side one of the best written New Zealand sports biographies in many years. He uses colourful and descriptive language, but interweaves enough colloquialism and slang terms to ensure readers relate to McCaw as a New Zealand rugby player. McGee also treats the readers as intelligent adults. Too many biographies of recent years have read like children’s books in comparison. Greg McGee has previously written a variety of crime novels and screenplays for New Zealand television shows and movies.
Here are some of the juicy revelations in the book:
- McCaw believes John Mitchell is a good coach, but even McCaw couldn’t understand what he was saying to the media. He thinks Mitchell’s and Robbie Deans’ tenure at the All Blacks would have been more successful if their roles had been reversed, and Deans the head coach and Mitchell the assistant.
- He believes that Robbie Deans is nowhere near as collaborative in his coaching than Graham Henry. McCaw’s main reason for promoting Henry over Deans was that he believed the coaching trio of Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith was far stronger than Deans and an unidentified assistant.
- The main reason McCaw ignored the coaching advice of taking the drop goal was because they had never practiced it. Therefore, he felt it was unlikely to be successful considering, especially considering the lack of experience they had at flyhalf, with Luke McAllister now there third of the game following injuries to Dan Carter and Nick Evans.
- His foot injury during the 2011 Rugby World Cup was far worse and far more painful than anyone imagined.
- Following the 2007 Rugby World Cup he decided to stop pussy footing around in terms of the All Blacks’ captaincy. After three years of growing into the role he was going to take ownership of it and demand whatever it takes from his team to succeed.
- Apparently Dan Carter was very close to heading overseas after the 2007 Rugby World Cup. His contract with the NZRU was finishing and he was sick of living in the fishbowl of New Zealand rugby. McCaw went to plead with him to stay, believing Carter to be imperative to the All Blacks’ quest for glory in 2011. He also believed that if Carter left then many other senior All Blacks would depart too, possibly even himself.
- Contrary to popular belief, McCaw claims to never deliberately set out to infringe at the breakdown. However, he sometimes realises that a certain approach may have a 50 50 chance of leading to an infringement if executed ineffectively.
Richie McCaw: The Open Side with Greg McGee was released in New Zealand on the 9th of October, 2012. It is available outside of New Zealand and Australia under the title ‘The Real McCaw: The Autobiography of Richie McCaw’. It is available as an eBook, hardcover and paperback.
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