Worth an ovation: Richie McCaw applauds the crowd after his last international match of 2013 in Dublin

Worth an ovation: Richie McCaw applauds the crowd after his last international match of 2013 in Dublin

Rugby World: Tell us about your sabbatical

Richie McCaw: I’d had a couple of injuries over the previous couple of years. My body was OK, it was more the mental side that goes with being injured and off the back of the World Cup, I just wanted to get a break mentally. I spent the summer at home, and then I decided to get out of New Zealand and away from the rugby. I went to the States and did some snow skiing and caught up with some people, and then caught up with a few mates in London, and did a bit of skiing in the Alps.

RW: You were allowed to go skiing?!

RM: Yeah that was a debate with the union! But they were actually pretty good, and I came back in one piece. We did have a bit of a chat about whether that was the right thing, but I figured they let me fly aeroplanes and helicopters so skiing was probably fine!

I didn’t watch any Super Rugby in that time, and when I came back I gave myself a good three months to get back in shape.

Best of enemies: McCaw and Dusautoir

Best of enemies: Richie McCaw and Thierry Dusautoir

RW: Did you make an effort to keep active?

RM: There weren’t many days went past when I didn’t do something, a bit of running and that. But it was just nice that if you woke up and felt, ‘nah, not today’ that you didn’t have to. You find you actually wanna do something. To be honest I didn’t (miss the rugby). I think being away from it was a good thing. When I got home and watched the All Blacks play France and I was back training, I started to miss it then.

RW: Are you looking forward to the Super 15?

RM: I am looking forward to having a full season. I played two games at the end of last season and that was hard, when you haven’t been there the whole time. And then the previous two years I had injuries early on, so it was pretty hard to really feel involved. But this year I’ll be there from the start. The Crusaders have been close but just haven’t quite been able to nail it in the last few years. That’s what drives me: that chance again. You can’t go into it thinking it’s going to be a long few weeks and hard work, you’ve got to go in with the right attitude and get excited by it, and enjoy it.

RW: Which are the dangerous teams in the Super 15?

RM: Playing home and away against the other four New Zealand teams are tough matches. Even though the Highlanders didn’t have such a good year last year, when you’re playing against your mates and people you know so well it’s pretty hard rugby. The Chiefs have beaten us in the play-offs the last couple of years, which is pretty annoying! They’ll definitely have confidence. And the Blues have put a good squad together this year. It’s hard to know until you get started with the other teams overseas.

With his greatest prize: McCaw and the Webb Ellis Cup

With his greatest prize: Webb Ellis Cup

RW: Who’s been your toughest opponent?

RM: George Smith. We played them a hell of a lot, the Wallabies and the Brumbies, around five times a year. Every time I played him it was a tough, tough battle. He’s a very smart player with the influence he has. In the World Cups, Thierry Dusautoir has had two phenomenal games against us, and again in the autumn, so I’ve got a lot of respect for him.

RW: Was the 2007 World Cup quarter-final your toughest defeat?

RM: Yeah, I think because four years work comes down to that one game, a few minutes and then it goes away. When the pressure really came on we didn’t really have an answer. We thought we’d be able to handle it because we’d been in touch situations before, but never the same as a World Cup where it all counts. There was a feeling of frustration that we came off the field and hadn’t played like we could’ve. That’s what really got me, but that’s what the World Cup and pressure does to you.

RW: You’re in your 12th year of international rugby. How does the body feel now compared to when you started?

RM: It’s actually pretty good to be honest. I’ve had a couple of niggly injuries over the last year, but they’re ones you when you have when you’re younger you don’t think much of them and move on.

RW: Do you do anything differently now?

RM: I’m a little bit smarter, from the recovery point of view and in looking after myself. You don’t get away with things as much as you used to, but you mature, can carry a bit of extra weight and be stronger, which is more natural when you’re older. Little things like that help, and what you eat, you learn over the years.

RW: Who’s your rugby icon?

RM: From a New Zealand point of view, Brian Lochore. An All Black captain, he coached the World Cup winning team in ’87, and then he was selector with us for four years. I really have a lot of time for how he looks at the game. He moved on to see how things were different with the way we were compared to how things were in his day, and when he was coaching in the 80s. He’s a wise man, and I really enjoyed having a few years close to him.

Three bust-kateers: Burger, Botha and McCaw

Three bust-kateers: Burger, Botha and McCaw

RW Readers

Challenge 365 (@challenge_365): Who are your dream back row partners?

RM: I’d like to play alongside Dusautoir, I reckon he’d be good at 6. And No 8, I would’ve liked to play with Zinzan Brooke.

Sean Craggs (@SeanCraggs): Has the introduction of Sam Cane made you become more clinical?

RM: I don’t think I’ve changed things too much. I’ve a lot of time for Sam, and for a young fella he’s a top player. But I can’t afford to be worrying about that, I’ve just got to keep doing what I do, and helping him too, because that helps me. It’s good having a guy like that in the team, but if you look over your shoulder and start worrying you’ve got trouble.

Shannon McMillan: Which of your regular international opposition would you like to play alongside?

RM: I got to play with Schalk Burger for the Barbarians a few years ago and I enjoyed that game. Hell of a nice guy, but out on the field he’s hard-hitting! I take my hat off him to fight his way back to playing (after illness).

Click here to find out more about Richie McCaw’s post-career coaching plans with the Rugby Site!