A special relationship

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A guest post from All Blacks captain Richie McCaw

A couple of people have asked me recently about my relationship with John Key. You may have seen pictures of the Prime Minister sharing a beer with the boys in the All Blacks changing room after our last victory, and you may be wondering what he was doing there.

It’s true that John Key likes to spend time with the lads. But it’s also true that we like having him there. All the boys get on well with John, and he’s always good for a laugh. He has an encyclopaedic rugby knowledge, and can tell you the final score in just about every test match the ABs have ever played, apart from a period in the early 1980s where his memory is really shaky. It’s nice to know we have a leader who cares deeply about the team. We’re not just another photo op for a politician. John Key genuinely enjoys our company.

John and I like to share a joke, and a fair bit of banter gets passed between us when we’re together. He also loves to text, and when I wake up in the morning I will usually find about twenty or thirty of his messages on my phone. Reading all those texts over a plate of weetbix is a great way to start the day.

John Key likes to play the joker when he’s around the lads, but there’s a more serious side to our Prime Minister. He cares deeply about New Zealand, just as I do. I don’t know how many sit-downs over a cup of tea he and I must have shared over the last few years. We have talked about just about everything, from global commodity prices and financial markets regulation, to welfare policy and the All Blacks lineout.

Some people reckon being the All Blacks captain must be about the hardest job in New Zealand. But for all the pressure on me, John’s got it ten times worse, so I don’t envy him one bit. He’s doing hugely important work, keeping our economy ticking along, and protecting us from all those bad foreign people. I’m also working hard against bad foreign people, but my job’s pretty easy compared to John’s. I mean, there’s only one David Pocock, isn’t there?

You’d be surprised at the things I find myself thinking when I’m buried at the bottom of a ruck or maul, or when I’m in the middle of a pile of bodies grubbing about for the ball. What does it all mean? Why are we here? Do we really have free will? If we live in a world without god, then what is the basis for morality?

Here is one hand, I sometimes find myself thinking as I reach for the ball from a blatantly off-side position. And here is another, I say to myself, as my other hand reaches for the prize. Surely, I ponder, are these two hands before me not irrefutable proof of the existence of an external world? And that referees really will let me get away with just about anything?

But it’s not just the big philosophical questions that get me thinking, because I also sometimes find myself worrying about the future of our country when I’m on the field. It’s a worry that can sometimes be paralysing. Like in that infamous quarterfinal against the French in 2007, which we of course lost. I haven’t told anyone outside the team what was really going through my mind that day, but I’m going to tell you now. The truth of the matter is that it wasn’t the referee who lost his nerve during that game. It wasn’t Wayne Barnes who found himself crippled with fear and unable to make sensible decisions on that cold Cardiff day. It was me.

We were only a year out from the election, and as I got to my feet after tackling the French tighthead prop, I found myself thinking about the terrible way our country was being run, wondering what would happen if John and his team didn’t come through. What if National didn’t win the 2008 election? What if Labour remained in power? What if we had three more years of fiscal irresponsibility, reckless spending and crippling taxation? A World Cup trophy would be small consolation if the entire nation ended up going down the toilet. Suddenly what I was doing on the field didn’t seem so important anymore.

I guess I kind of blew it that day, and I felt pretty bad after the game. But do you know what got me through that dark day? It was a visit from John Key. I sat in the changing room under the stand afterwards, alone, crying, knowing I had failed my team, but also deeply anxious about the ongoing erosion of our personal liberties under the Labour Party nanny state government. That’s when John walked in. Without a word he came to me, embracing me, speaking soft words of comfort as I wept. “At the end of the day, actually, Richie, you’re a top bloke,” he whispered to me.

Whatever you think you know about me, I’m actually an intensely spiritual person. So is John. We shared a moment under the stand that day, a moment I won’t ever forget. I felt uplifted, strengthened, able to hold my head high. Able to carry on.

There were some dark times in 2011 as well, but what got me through my foot injury and the harrowing World Cup final was the thought that John had always had my back, so now it was my turn to give back. A victory in the final would lift the mood of the nation and help National win re-election. When Stephen Donald came up to kick the penalty that would eventually win us the game I said to him: “Beaver, don’t just do it for the nation. Do it for John. John needs this.” The rest, of course, is history.

And now another Rugby World Cup final is here, and once again I’ll be doing it for John. He’s like a brother to me. We share a special bond. I would lay down my life for him, and I know he’d do the same for me. I am as determined as ever to ensure that New Zealand enjoys many more years of responsible and prudent leadership under a sensible centre-right government. It’s what has kept me motivated all these years.

I’m only a rugby player, but I know an All Blacks victory would mean so much to the people of New Zealand. A win this weekend would help bring about the brighter future John Key has spoken so much about. More importantly, another All Blacks victory should just about stuff those doomsayers in Labour once and for all.

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