Mind Games: The hour when we must say goodbye

2014-03-10 10:00

A two-minute stanza from the match ­between the Crusaders and the Blues might well turn out to have been the defining moment of the 2014 Super Rugby ­competition.

Just before the half-time whistle, the Blues were trailing 3-17 and seemingly headed for defeat against their nemesis from the South Island.

But then wing Frank Halai was put away wide on the right and he arched away from the attempted cover tackles to score.

Next, straight from the kickoff, the other wing, teenager Tevita Li, sped down the left-hand touchline for ­another try that left red-and-black bodies sprawling in his wake.

In both instances, the final, despairing tackle was missed by one of the greatest figures in New Zealand and world rugby – All Black captain Richie McCaw. He ran good lines to be in a position for the tackles, but he failed to pull off either.

Later, it emerged McCaw had broken a thumb early in the game (an injury that has put him out of action for eight weeks) and it could be argued that he was just off the pace, not quite in position to bring off the saving tackles.

But that’s just it. Was he off the pace because he is off the pace?

At the age of 33, after many injuries and in spite of being given a long sabbatical last season in an effort to nurse him to next year’s World Cup, were these two painful moments a sign that the great man has reached the end of the road?

I found myself thinking of the words of the haunting Maori farewell song Po Atarau or Haere Ra (Now is the hour, when we must say goodbye?…).

Doubtless, All Black coach Steve Hansen would also have noted the flounders by the veteran of 124 tests (McCaw turns 34 in December), and felt flickers of doubt about his decision to try to get his skipper to London next year.

Hansen has also instituted rugby’s form of load shedding in an effort to push fly half Dan Carter the distance, but it would be surprising if he were not starting to question his own long-term plan.

The Kiwi coach will be only too aware that Australia (1995), England (2007) and South Africa (2011) failed when they tried to preserve a Cup-winning team for the next ascent to rugby’s pinnacle, and he must be wondering if now is the time to start building a new team under Kieran Read.

In spite of the impression that the All Blacks might be carrying too many old bones, they have in many areas managed to find new parts for the well-oiled machine that won the Cup in 2011.

The likes of Ben Smith, Charles ­Piutau, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Steven Luatua, Sam Cane, ­Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick and Charlie Faumuina have slotted in ­successfully.

The Kiwis have continued to cling to the hope that McCaw and Carter will be able to rekindle their glory days.

However, it has been proven that World Cups are won by settled teams riding the crest of at least a year full of good form.

The hour might have come for Richie McCaw to say goodbye.

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