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If the cap fits…

1 October 2011

12:00 AM

1 October 2011

12:00 AM

If the cap fits…

There can’t be many people who can wear a quartered and tasselled silver cricket cap without looking as if they’re searching for a Hackett window display to stand in. But New Zealand captain Richie McCaw managed it the other day in the sheeting rain at Auckland on the occasion of his 100th Test appearance in an All Black shirt. In lesser hands — or on lesser heads — the cap would have resembled an undersized miner’s hat crossed with the Wellesley House under-14s school colours, and would have guaranteed the wearer several weeks of relentless bullying. Sitting atop McCaw, it only reinforced the image of an iconic figure hewn out of some timeless cliff face.


New Zealand rugby, like Australian cricket with its beloved baggy green, takes kit very seriously. You don’t mess with the All Black jersey; you wear it with understated but ferocious pride. An All Black thinks of himself as the shirt’s temporary custodian, not its owner. There are few more ruggedly square-jawed heroes than McCaw — just ask any of his fabulous-looking girlfriends — and his response to his 100th cap was modest and moving. ‘I loved it out there today as much as the first day I played for New Zealand,’ he said after the Kiwis’ ominously potent victory over a characteristically chaotic France. ‘The All Blacks jersey is special every time I put it on. When you do that, you play for your team-mates, family and everybody in this awesome country.’

There was something intimidating about McCaw’s modesty, as though he would just happily fling himself in the way of danger in his 100th cap as he did during his first. Of his 100 Tests, he has started 94, and been on the losing side just 12 times. There’s no shortage of world-class open-side flankers in New Zealand, so his achievement is all the more remarkable. Under his leadership the Kiwis are an intensely cohesive unit, and they don’t seem prone to dwarf-racing evenings either. Who would bet against McCaw’s mighty paws lifting the Webb Ellis trophy in a few weeks’ time?

How awesome was that All Blacks display against the French! If ever a rugby ball has spent less time moving from one player to another than the moment Danny Carter flashed the ball out to Nonu for the unfortunately named Dagg to score the second try, then I would gladly put on a tasselled cricket cap myself. And this was a proper pass, not a flick: Carter’s skill and speed of thought was worthy of a peerage. The French coach Marc Lievremont’s decision to play Morgan Parra — for the first time — at stand-off against Dan Carter of all people was not perhaps his most perceptive move. Though he was rather more on the money, remember, during the Six Nations, when he said that he didn’t like the English, and nobody else did either. This brought howls of outrage about racism, though of course he didn’t mean that he doesn’t like you or me (though he might not), but simply that the English rugby team can get up people’s noses. Which they do. There has been something strangely graceless about their performances here, even when thumping Romania Extra Bs. Let’s wait and see what happens next weekend against Scotland in what will be effectively the first knockout match of the tournament.

Mark Cavendish, newly crowned world cycling champion and one of Britain’s greatest post-war sportsmen, is the biggest thing to come out of the Isle of Man since the Bee Gees’ Gibb brothers. The most dazzling sprint finisher in cycling history, all Cav now needs his own hit single — if not ‘Night Moves’, how about ‘Bike Moves’?

Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.


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