Nick Farr-Jones
Nick Farr-Jones Getty Images

McCaw century boost for sport

AS WE reach the final stages of the Rugby World Cup pool matches and await with great anticipation the playing of the crucial sudden death stages of the tournament, it is worth again reflecting on the remarkable achievement of All Black captain Ritchie McCaw becoming the first New Zealander to reach the 100 test milestone last Saturday at Eden Park. It is hard to imagine, given New Zealand's long and proud history in rugby, that it has taken this long but to be realistic, only since the game went professional and there was a significant spike in annual tests played, has this milestone really become attainable. Coupled also with the depth of talent in New Zealand and the constant pressure to maintain one's jersey, McCaw's achievement is a testimony to his sheer tenacity and endurance - not to mention his outstanding leadership to captain the team for many years now.

The example that McCaw sets to up and coming young New Zealanders is one of the wonderful side benefits of the country hosting this global sporting event - where the microscope is turned up on the team and it's individuals. The cost benefit to the nation would be impossible to calculate as youngsters, irrespective of whether they aspire one day to pull on the Black jersey, start to dream big. I certainly know as a youngster growing up that there were a few individual sports people who greatly impacted my thinking and dreams to not die wondering about how good I could one day become in one sport or another. People like Jack Nicklaus, Bjorn Borg and even the great Pele whom I met in the early 70s, all in different ways taught me invaluable lessons as I marveled at their long and proud careers.

As I occasionally reflect 20 years on from being in the right place at the right time to be privileged to lead a group of wonderful young and talented rugby players to win the second Rugby World Cup, it was the impact that the win made back home on youngsters which to me was the greatest legacy. Statistics suggested that in 1992, the year following our success, junior rugby registrations here in my home state of NSW soared 150 percent. Youngsters who had been woken in the wee hours on the morning by parents to watch us strut our stuff in the United Kingdom and Ireland were inspired and dreamt of pulling on the gold jersey. Parents indeed wanted their kids to play a game that they believed had all the hall marks of what playing sport was about.

And how important are these messages in a time when our children are spending hours each day on those damn laptop computers and sitting in front of video and other games. You don't need me to reiterate the dreadful but realistic statistics of, for example, childhood obesity and the flow on incidence of health issues such as diabetes which follows. And the future cost on our health systems is almost too scary to contemplate.

And with the New Zealand Warriors reaching their second historic grand final in the NRL this weekend some rugby die hards are concerned that the spot light will be taken away from the country's show piece event. I say let the Warriors have their great day in the sun and turn up the spot lights. The more our youngsters are inspired by their home teams and champions within those teams, the more they will be outside running into each other under hills hoists.

But irrespective of the outcome of the final this weekend, the lights and attention will quickly return to McCaw and the Blacks as they attempt to climb their individual and collective Mt Everests during October. It will be a fascinating three weeks as the world's rugby heavyweights lock horns in crucial sudden death contests. These matches  remind me a little of that famous quote from the infamous British soccer manager, Bill Shankley, many decades ago when he uttered "Some people think that winning and losing is a matter of life and death. I disagree it's a far more important thing." Bring it on.





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