They’re among the most revered rugby men of their own countries, players of the highest order in their respective eras.
Peter Bills, NZ Herald
But that doesn’t stop Ireland’s great old warrior Willie John McBride delivering a damning verdict on Richie McCaw, the man who will lead the All Blacks out against the Irish in Dublin tomorrow.
For McBride, there is no doubt about it. “I admire the All Blacks’ will to win but not necessarily some of their tactics” he says.
“Of course they play the law to the limit and beyond if they can get away with it. Richie McCaw and some others get over on the wrong side of the ruck. He should be penalised every time in my book.
“At least with McCaw, he will make an effort to get away, but in making that effort, he gets in the way of the halfback.
“But I don’t understand referees sometimes. The New Zealanders seem able to play the game to the very edge of the law much better than anyone else.
“And when the IRB change the laws, New Zealand are the first to get to grips with it and see how they can play it to their advantage.”
In more ways than just the one, the New Zealand approach and philosophy about the game is not McBride’s way. He says frankly: “Their intensity is unbelievable, but I am not sure I would want to be part of that life.
“To me, life is about a lot more than just rugby football. And let’s be honest, things have happened over the years … the cheating and other things. When I think of Andy Haden falling out of a lineout to try and win a penalty to decide a game, that’s not the sort of thing that interests me.
“Life is not worth that. I don’t know that I like that intensity; it’s not life and death.”
Nevertheless, McBride doffs his cap to some of the great All Blacks of the past and highlights their 1963 side as the greatest he ever saw. “We lost 6-5 to them in Dublin after leading 5-3 until right at the end, when Don Clarke kicked a penalty.
“They had a tremendous team. Led by Wilson Whineray, the likes of Kel Tremain, Ken Gray, Waka Nathan and Clarke made them exceptional. Certainly the best I saw. They beat the Lions 4-0 in 1966, but by then they were declining. Yet they were still far too good for us.”
McBride toured New Zealand in 1966 and was stunned by the intensity he saw. “There was a team at every crossroads and they hated the team at the next crossroads. It was about survival of the strongest and the fittest. Their trials were like test matches.”
In 1973, for the only time in their history, Ireland managed a draw against New Zealand, 10-10 at Lansdowne Road. That single result stands in utter isolation; New Zealand have won all 22 of the other matches between the countries.
It will be a similar story of New Zealand supremacy at Lansdowne Road this time, McBride fears. “The All Blacks at the moment are a very well-oiled machine, whereas Ireland has a lot of problems.
“Our tight five is nowhere near what we need. But these New Zealanders are a very skilful lot as well and so well organised it’s untrue.
“In 1963 when we so nearly beat them, we went out with the attitude that it was 15 of them against 15 of us and we were going to get into them, try to disrupt them as much as possible.
“There is nothing else Ireland can do in this match. They have to get in among them and tackle, tackle, tackle. But I doubt that will be enough because we haven’t got a scrum. And it’s still the team that can dominate the scrums that is able to dictate most games.