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# Ageless
'He used to antagonise the s**t out of the older guys, we had to talk to him'
Dan Carter and Richie McCaw remain vital to the All Blacks despite their age.

Murray Kinsella reports from the Oatlands Park Hotel

YOU SCAN DOWN the number of Test caps alongside the names on New Zealand’s team sheet for Saturday’s World Cup semi-final and you realise, once again, how important Richie McCaw and Dan Carter are going to be.

Richie McCaw (146)… Dan Carter (110)…

New ZealandÕs Richie McCaw McCaw is still going strong at the age of 34.

These are players so many of us grew up watching in wonderment. With maturity we move beyond that state of awe, but a respect remains.

There’s also Ma’a Nonu on 101 and Conrad Smith just eight away from a century, but Carter and McCaw are a step above. The legendary leaders of the Kiwis, two all-time greats of the game and they’re still hungry for more.

Two more caps, another World Cup trophy.

“It does get tougher with age,” says 33-year-old Carter, who missed out on the 2011 World Cup knock-out stages with a groin injury. “You have to work a bit harder to stay at the highest level.

The body can be fine and everything, but it’s that drive and desire that keeps you in the game and keeps you playing at the highest level. If your mind is willing and you’re prepared to do anything to make sure you’re at that level (it can be done).”

There are strong echoes of Paul O’Connell’s mentality in those words, Victor Matfield’s too, any veteran who has remained fiercely competitive despite their advancing years. There is something graceful about watching these elder statesmen, a knowing class to their actions on the pitch and their words off it.

Carter reeled back the years last weekend as he was at his running and passing best in the heavy defeat of France in the quarter-finals. The break and one-handed, back-door pass to Julian Savea was a moment of rugby beauty from the out-half.

Captain McCaw, meanwhile, has been a picture of consistency for the Kiwis, pretty much since the moment of his debut against Ireland at Lansdowne Road, a 40-29 win in which Jonah Lomu was among the six Kiwi try scorers.

Dan Carter lines up a conversion as Richie McCaw looks on Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO McCaw carried Carter's tee for the clash with Tonga. Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

“He started out in 2001 and was player of the day and he could have been player of the day in all of the other 145 games,” says head coach Steve Hansen of McCaw.

“He’s been an exceptional player and it’s not only his ability to play the game, it’s his leadership now, he has become one of the great leaders in world rugby, particularly under pressure.”

That mental fortitude under pressure might be the difference for the Kiwis on Saturday and possibly beyond, with McCaw being ably supported in the leadership group by the likes of Carter and Kieran Read.

Hansen has had an exceptional view of McCaw’s development from the very beginning, having first worked with the back row at Canterbury and the Crusaders when he came onto the scene.

I always felt he was going to be a very good player,” says Hansen. “He used to antagonise the shit out of the older guys, because at training he was in the opposition.

“We had to pull the older guys aside to lay off him a bit because they started to get hacked off every time he pinched the ball, but at the same time we had to talk to him about letting them have it.

“He’s been a real good competitor from day one. The one thing he has done throughout his whole career is keep evolving. When he first started he couldn’t catch a cold and he had four feet. His big thing he could do was pinch ball at the breakdown.

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inpho_00948647 Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO Carter and McCaw are legends of the game. Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

“Now he is a complete rugby player. He is a lineout forward, he can catch and pass and that’s a testament to his ability to want to be a better player every day. It fits in right with the ethos; we want to be a better team every day than we were the day before.”

“He is a living example of it.”

As is Carter, even if he is not the same player he was when he tore the Lions asunder in 2005, his remarkable 33-point performance in the second Test remaining one of the greatest individual displays in the history of the game.

But even now, a week after shredding les Bleus, Carter is seeking improvement. Last weekend’s outstanding performance is already gone for the out-half, he seeks even greater heights against South Africa on Saturday.

It is the challenge for us,” says Carter. “My mate Aaron Smith has been moaning all World Cup about having a sore back from carrying me. It’s about time I had a decent game.

“To be honest, you talk to your mates and you’re just sick of hearing about (the France game). You want to focus on this week and not look back. I think we’ve done that well as a team, we haven’t talked about last week after our review on Monday, it’s all been focusing on what happens this week.

“It’s another do-or-die match and it’s going to be a close one. We’ve prepared well and the challenge for us is to make sure that we get up to that level, if not play even better. That’s what we’re always striving to do.”

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