ON HIS DAY, Richie McCaw made for an intimidating presence on the rugby field. The 188cm, 107kg frame he maintained during his playing days helped, but it was McCaw’s hard-hitting playing style and reputation as an enforcer that made him an unstoppable force. A vocal openside flanker, McCaw’s stentorian tones could often be heard above the maelstrom of the ruck, and it was his leadership that guided the All Blacks to two successive World Cup victories—a feat which made him the only player to win two World Cups as a captain.
McCaw left an indelible mark on rugby. A three-time World Rugby Player of the Year, one-time player of the decade, and member of the most dominant team of all time, McCaw has earned a lion’s share of accolades throughout his storied career. Still, one moment stands above the rest.
Reflecting on his career during a chat with Men’s Health, McCaw suggests his second World Cup triumph—regretfully a 34-17 shellacking of our Wallabies—as the highlight of his journey. “That’s one of the things that I reflect on with pride,” he says. “I was lucky for my last game to be a World Cup final and a win. And from a personal point of view, to have not just been there because I was hanging around as an older guy, but because I was playing some of my best rugby.”
It’s been eight years since that fateful match which solidified McCaw’s status as one of rugby’s all-time greats. He would retire shortly after, but unlike most former athletes, McCaw doesn’t long for the days when he was on the field. “To be honest, I don’t miss the actual playing of the game,” he admits. One thing he does miss, however, is the camaraderie that only comes with being attached to a close-knit unit of like-minded individuals. “I miss being part of the team,” he says. As McCaw discerns, that level of affinity and kinship is typically far easier to achieve when you’re a member of a sporting team. But he’s found another avenue for connection.
An F45 ambassador, McCaw has delved into the world of functional group fitness, finding the style the ideal outlet for his post-retirement energy. “F45 is a way of getting people together and getting motivated to be healthy and fit,” he says. “A lot of the fitness stuff that I do is for the camaraderie and that’s what I really enjoy about F45.”
This week is F45 trials, a seven-day competitive test of endurance, strength and mental toughness. With daily performance-based workouts, members can log, monitor and compare their results with other members. It’s the competitive aspect in particular that appeals to McCaw. “The competitive side of things is great. You can see how you compare to others, and it adds a little challenge, whether it’s aiming for better numbers than last time or just trying to beat everyone else,” he says.
Since retiring, McCaw has made a drastic departure from the rugby-focused lifestyle he led for the better part of two decades. “When I finished, I got well away from rugby with something completely different. I pretty much went full time flying helicopters,” he says, seemingly aware of the unconventional nature of his career change. McCaw has always been a flyer. His father is a pilot and he grew up around aeronautical endeavours.
Despite having less of a focus on fitness these days, McCaw has found new ways to challenge himself and keep his health in check. McCaw has dropped 17kg since hanging up his boots, no meagre accomplishment. So, how’s he done it? In addition to his penchant for F45 workouts, McCaw has found a passion for extreme, cross-country physical tests that push his body to the limit. There are easier methods of staying fit, but that logic doesn’t compute for McCaw, who is always looking for new challenges.
As well as being in the midst of F45’s trials week, he’s also just returned from a gruelling four-day cycling tour that took him from one side of New Zealand’s South Island to the other, and back again over a weekend. Events like that are what McCaw turns to for the sense of camaraderie he’s lost since retiring from rugby. “I missed the team element of rugby,” he says. “Even though it’s a smaller team in these events, it’s still a team.”
It isn’t only the fellowship of such events that intrigues McCaw, though, the allure of a challenge is too hard to pass up. “We had a team of five of us, and I was very much the weak link,” he says. “I’m a big guy, and all these other guys are little fellas, so I was thinking Man, I could easily just get dropped off this.” He didn’t get dropped off, though, a member of McCaw’s team won the tour, and as a team, they won the sprint and time trials, in no small part due to McCaw’s contributions.
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McCaw has also taken an interest in adventure racing, an elite sport which combines cycling, trekking, running and kayaking in an arduous test of endurance. “I was very much a novice when I started,” McCaw admits. “But after my first one, I looked back and thought I could do that better. Now, whenever events like that interest me, I put them my calendar, which keeps me motivated.”
Not one to rest on his laurels, McCaw has also taken on ‘Godzone’ four times. The ultimate test of both physical and mental toughness, Godzone sees competitors dropped into the wilderness, with few supplies, and directed to work towards a finish line. But what’s the appeal of such a gruelling undertaking? As McCaw explains, “Purely because I didn’t know whether I could do it or not.”
McCaw could do it. On his first attempt, the challenge took him seven days, and he immediately started thinking about what he could improve before his next attempt. “What it showed me is that you can be fit to a point, but it’s how you do all the little things that can make the difference,” he says. “I went from just trying to get through the course to thinking, How can I do this more efficiently and faster?” On his most recent Godzone outing, McCaw completed the course in five days. A testament to his current mindset, it’s an accomplishment he’s proud of, but is still keen to improve on.
McCaw will never be comfortable with sitting back and relaxing, he’s always looking for his next challenge, or rather, his next source of discomfort. “It’s all about creating that uncomfortableness that I loved about playing rugby,” McCaw says. “In rugby, you have a team trying to stop you, but in everyday life, the only thing stopping you is yourself.”
Gazing into his crystal ball—and calling on over 30 years’ experience around the sport— McCaw envisions the future of rugby in both Australia and New Zealand as bright, and he cites strengthened grassroots development as the key to success. “The reason we’ve had good success over the years is because we’ve had a lot of kids wanting to play the game,” he says. “We’ve got to keep making sure we have that pipeline of kids that love playing the game.”
McCaw is moving beyond his status as a legendary rugby player. Now, with a renewed focus on physical and mental challenges, he has a more important target in his sights, a commitment to staying fit and healthy for life.