WELLINGTON • Richie McCaw always knew the perfect moment to attack the breakdown, to make a tackle or complete a pass. And the All Blacks skipper demonstrated his perfect sense of timing once again yesterday in announcing his retirement from rugby.
McCaw, who walks away as one of the game's all-time greats, ended his 14-year Test career as the most capped player (148) and captain (110) in world rugby.
The 34-year-old flanker won three World Rugby Player of the Year awards and led the All Blacks to successive World Cup victories in 2011 and 2015.
That his announcement came a day after Jonah Lomu's unexpected death at age 40 also ensured that there would be less fanfare.
He could have postponed his announcement if he wanted it to stand alone as the biggest rugby story of the week. Instead, he opened his Wellington press conference with a minute's silence for Lomu and took the opportunity to pay an emotional tribute to the former All Blacks winger.
"He was the superstar and I think the way he held himself paved the way for what's expected for the rest of the New Zealand rugby players and All Blacks who have gone since," said McCaw.
That last game, to have that as the lasting memory of the last time on the pitch - pretty satisfying.
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Lomu will be remembered for his humility, and so too McCaw, who said he was proud to have consistently played "at a level that was reasonably good".
Asked to nominate three career highlights, he picked his Test debut against Ireland at Lansdowne Road in 2001, his second World Cup win and a shock quarter-final loss to France in the 2007 World Cup.
He faced damning criticism of his captaincy in the wake of the defeat but said the lessons learnt were the foundation for subsequent success.
RICHIE MCCAW: ALL BLACKS ALL-TIME GREAT
Test victories he has been involved in - a record
Players who have made their All Blacks debut since his first Test in 2001
His win rate as captain
"That may be a weird one to pick out but that's certainly made the last few years really enjoyable for what we've achieved," he said.
Last month, he became the only captain to ever claim back-to-back World Cups. He had been considering retirement for a while and the time felt right after New Zealand's 34-17 victory over Australia in the title decider at Twickenham.
"That last game, to have that as the lasting memory of the last time on the pitch - pretty satisfying," said McCaw.
His performances at the tournament were among the best of his storied career, a point not lost on coach Steve Hansen.
"I thought his last game in the World Cup final was one of the best he played," Hansen said.
"Like everybody, you have to pick the right time to go and he couldn't have picked a better time.
"He has been a terrific player and leader and probably the greatest we have had."
McCaw, who turns 35 next month, said his immediate plan was to start work as a commercial helicopter pilot in Christchurch.
His retirement signals the end of an era in All Blacks rugby, with six other players who have helped the side become the most successful in world rugby retiring or heading offshore for lucrative contracts to end their playing careers.
He joins fellow Test centurions Keven Mealamu (132 caps) and Tony Woodcock (118) in hanging up their boots, while Daniel Carter (112), Ma'a Nonu (103) and Conrad Smith (94) have also ended their New Zealand careers by joining clubs in France.
Since 2004, when those six players cemented their places in the side, the All Blacks have won 137 of 157 Tests, losing 18 and drawing two.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE