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YOU WOULD HAVE TO THINK that Richie McCaw would be a hard act to fol­low.

He was about Mr Per­fect and for a long, long time. He was the man who could do no wrong and the man a na­tion came to im­plic­itly trust as All Blacks cap­tain.

It was hard for many sup­port­ers to let go when he re­tired. Many be­lieved that the All Blacks would never be the same and that with­out McCaw, they would be miss­ing some­thing they wouldn’t be able to quite re­place.

Good luck Kieran Read coming in as cap­tain af­ter that. Could he re­ally be given a fair crack at the job, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of some­one who en­joyed a 90 per cent win ra­tio and cap­tained the All Blacks in more than 100 tests?

Well, it turns out that Read is a spe­cial, spe­cial player and leader him­self. He joined an elite club in July when he won his 100th test cap at Eden Park in the se­ries de­cider against the Li­ons.

Reach­ing that land­mark is it­self con­fir­ma­tion of his stand­ing. It is a big achieve­ment to win one cap for your coun­try. To win 100 is scarcely be­liev­able and to win 100 as an All Black – that must be the tough­est thing of all.

The com­pe­ti­tion within New Zealand rugby is in­tense. Think how many good play­ers there are and what it takes to be­come recog­nised as the best in your re­spec­tive po­si­tion. And what it takes to stay there for long enough to play 100 games.

Look at the play­ers Read has seen off over the years. He first came into the All Blacks in 2008, play­ing as a blind­side then. At the start of 2009, All Blacks as­sis­tant coach as he was then, Steve Hansen, per­suaded Read to con­cen­trate on No 8.

Hansen saw that as Read’s long-term po­si­tion – the place from which he could best utilise his all round skills. It was an as­tute move be­cause as that year de­vel­oped, Read usurped long-term in­cum­bent Rod­ney So’oialo from the team.

Since then he’s seen the likes of Vic­tor Vito, Thomas Wal­drom, Luke White­lock and Nasi Manu all chal­lenge un­suc­cess­fully to top­ple him.

No one in the do­mes­tic game has even come close to of­fer­ing what Read has.

He’s also been able to see off all pre­tenders to his crown as the world’s best No 8 which he ef­fec­tively took pos­ses­sion of in 2010.

That year Read wiped the floor with South Africa’s Pierre Spies in three tests. The big Spring­bok had big tick­ets on him, but he didn’t have Read’s crunch or drive in the nasty parts of the game. Oth­ers such as Scott Hig­gin­botham, Wy­cliff Palu, Billy Vu­nipola, Jamie Heaslip and Taulupe Fale­tau have come along at var­i­ous stages, but none has of­fered the same range of skills or con­sis­tency as Read.

He tack­les harder than any­one in the world game. He has pace and leg drive to hit the line hard when he car­ries. He is, along­side Sam White­lock, the world’s best li­ne­out ex­po­nent and he can range wide and use his in­cred­i­ble skills to dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect.

The flip pass he threw in the first test against the Li­ons to set up Rieko Ioane’s try was mirac­u­lous and yet Read made it look so easy. The only player that has com­pa­ra­ble skills at No 8 is Duane Ver­meulen but he has been too in­jury-plagued to have chal­lenged.

Go­ing back to that first test against the Li­ons, Read was close to be­ing man of the match and yet he hadn’t played for eight weeks due to a bro­ken thumb. He’d barely played much be­fore the bro­ken thumb ei­ther be­cause he had been re­cov­er­ing from wrist surgery.

So lit­tle rugby and such a big per­for­mance, in such a big game... there was only one other man who could do that and it was McCaw.

That was the mo­ment re­ally when Read es­tab­lished that he’s made of much the same stuff. He has the same re­silience, the same con­fi­dence in his abil­ity and the same de­sire to suc­ceed and im­pose him­self.

It was a hugely in­spir­ing per­for­mance and one that lifted all those around him. And that is the other thing about Read, he in­spires to the same ex­tent as McCaw but per­haps with dif­fer­ent meth­ods.

Read, as the cur­rent All Blacks will say, is more in­clu­sive. He’s bet­ter equipped to talk to all play­ers in the team: more worldly per­haps as a re­sult of grow­ing up in the multi-cul­tural South Auck­land where all walks of life crossed his path.

Read can adapt to be­ing what­ever the team needs, be it as a leader or as a player and he is on track to es­tab­lish him­self as one of the great­est play­ers and All Blacks in his­tory.

If he had the im­pos­si­ble job in fol­low­ing McCaw, no one seems to have told him.

Gre­gor Paul, Editor

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