RTÉ rugby analyst Brent Pope has hailed All Black great Richie McCaw as the greatest rugby player of all time and has backed Wellington Hurricanes flanker Ardie Savea to replace the recently retired New Zealand captain.
Speaking to students from Dublin City University, Pope spoke of McCaw’s leadership qualities, his humility and his rugby intelligence, and said that you’d be hard pressed to find a greater player than the three-time World Rugby Player of the Year.
“He’s just one of those players that is an incredible leader, he’s a humble go-across-the-trenches first type of captain, he’s made that position his in a high attrition area like number 7, he has made that position his as one of the world’s best,” said Pope.
“To play at number 7 for 150 games and never really have a bad performance, yes the cynics out there are going to give me the same old excuses ‘he cheats most of the time, he’s offside,’ but I say good on him. He famously scores more points on the annual New Zealand referee exams than the referee’s themselves.
“To win two world cups, to be captain of the All Blacks, to win the World Player of the Year three times, to win the tri-nations, to win Super Rugby championships, I think you would be hard pressed to say that Richie McCaw is not the greatest player to play the game.”
Pope hailed McCaw as an all round player and the greatest of the modern era. While he acknowledged that he didn’t change the face of the game, like former teammate Jonah Lomu, he did claim that he was the more complete player of the two.
McCaw’s retirement from international rugby leaves a gaping hole in the All Blacks’ backrow and while the Waikato Chiefs’ Sam Cane is being groomed as the heir apparent to McCaw, Pope views the younger Savea brother, Ardie, as a more ready-made successor.
“[Matt] Todd is very unlucky, he’s a type of McCaw player and he’s been very underrated for a number of years,” added the former Otago Rugby Player of the Year.
“I think the next player to take over, from what is a bit like a Brian O’Driscoll situation over here in terms of huge boots to fill, is going to be Savea.
“Again, he’s a humble type of player and I just see something in him. He’s fast, he’s aggressive and he’s strong. I’m not a huge Same Cane fan yet, I know he’s very well respected in New Zealand and he’s still relatively young.
“But if you’re asking me and I played at number 7 for a lot of my career I think the future of New Zealand Rugby at number 7 is Ardie Savea.”
As always with New Zealand rugby, when one great player retires, a future star is made in the process. As far as Pope is concerned there will now be two Savea’s terrorising international defences. If Ardie can have half the success that older brother Julian has had in international rugby then the rest of the rugby world is in trouble.
You can listen to the full interview with Brent Pope below (McCaw discussion starts at roughly 38:25).
Jack O’Toole, Pundit Arena