By Greg Stutchbury
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Richie McCaw will become the most capped player in test rugby in the Bledisloe Cup decider against Australia on Saturday, notching up yet another record in a career that has made him arguably the greatest player to ever wear the All Blacks jersey.
The 34-year-old openside flanker joined former Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll on 141 caps in the 27-19 loss to the Wallabies in Sydney last week.
That result has given the Wallabies the chance to reclaim the symbol of trans-Tasman supremacy on Saturday for the first time since they lost it in 2003, and threatens to overshadow McCaw's milestone.
McCaw, though, is probably quite happy about that.
As co-writer Greg McGee said in the 2012 biography "The Open Side", McCaw is a private man living a very public life.
He is mindful of his role as All Blacks captain, a position considered the second-most scrutinised job in the rugby-mad country behind that of prime minister.
As such, his utterances when in camp rarely provoke controversy. He speaks of team first and downplays expectations.
McCaw exudes gravitas, or to use a uniquely New Zealand aphorism, he has "mana". When he speaks, people listen. And his team mates follow him even when he, as he is wont to do on occasion, lays down the law according to Richie.
In "The Open Side", McCaw said he had dreams of making the All Blacks from an early age.
Having been invited to the New Zealand under-19 trials, he was asked by his uncle John 'Biggsy' McLay what his goals were.
The pair mapped out, on a paper napkin, a planned progression through provincial rugby into Super Rugby and then eventually to the All Blacks side.
"Sign it," McCaw recalled his uncle asking him. "Sign it Great All Black".
"I couldn't bring myself to write the words Great All Black, so I wrote down G.A.B.," McCaw wrote, adding that he hung the scrap of paper at the back of a cupboard where no one else would see it.
Those teenage aspirations evolved as planned.
McCaw, who led New Zealand to their second World Cup title in 2011 on a broken foot, is now widely considered the greatest All Black, surpassing Colin Meads, and holds virtually every record and honour going in international rugby.
A three-time World Player of the Year, he was the first All Black to notch up 100 test caps, has the highest number of wins (124), most games as captain (105) and on Saturday he takes sole possession of the overall caps record from O'Driscoll.
McCaw's path to international rugby began at 12 when his father Don suggested the self-confessed "big kid" would enjoy rugby more if he dropped some weight and got fitter.
He set about running down a loop road that ran past his family farm in the South Island's Hakataramea Valley, pushing himself each day and using markers spaced about 500 metres apart to measure his progress.
The early work paid off and has been maintained. McCaw is routinely reported to be the fittest man in the All Blacks and tops the dreaded "yoyo test" every season.
He was called into the All Blacks squad in 2001 aged 20 without having played Super Rugby, a decision that was criticised by Josh Kronfeld, the man who had held the black number seven jersey before him.
"I suppose the selectors thought they picked the right players," McCaw said at the time. "I've just got to put up my hand and make sure I am worthy to be here, and make the most of my opportunities."
Prophetic, yet again, as his speed, anticipation and athleticism were showcased on debut against an Ireland team containing O'Driscoll in Dublin. He was named man of the match.
That was just an indicator of what was to come for him in an All Blacks side that has set the standard in world rugby over the past decade.
McCaw's pace may have diminished in the 14 years since, but his superb conditioning and nouse have allowed him to evolve into a hybrid modern loose forward.
The way he has developed into a ball carrying, possession poaching, defensive bruiser has earmarked him for greatness, according to New Zealand coach Steve Hansen.
"The thing that has made him a great player, other than his mental strength, which I think is phenomenal, is his ability to want to get better," Hansen told British newspaper The Telegraph last year.
"He has evolved his game over time, hence why he is probably, if not the greatest player we have had."
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)