All Blacks captain Richie McCaw announced his retirement Thursday, bringing to an end a Test career spanning fourteen years -- almost to the day -- and boasting a phenomenal win-rate. His final match was the Rugby World Cup final at Twickenham in England, during which time he led New Zealand to victory over rival Australia 34-17.
"I'm hanging up my boots having accomplished everything I could have ever dreamed about in the game," he said.
"Knowing that I was able to end my career by helping the All Blacks win the Rugby World Cup Final is a hugely satisfying feeling."
Since beginning his international career with a win over Ireland on November 17, 2001, McCaw quickly rose to captain the side during one of his country's most successful eras, culminating in victory in the recent World Cup final.
In a world-record Test career of 148 caps, McCaw's All Blacks won an amazing 131 times, and the North Otago native led them to victory in the World Cup twice, first in Auckland and again in London.
Before the official announcement from New Zealand Rugby's headquarters, he posted the news on Facebook.
New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive Steve Tew congratulated McCaw on his storied career.
"Richie has been the most influential player of his generation, if not of all time," he said. "His playing statistics tell the story, but Richie has also made a very significant contribution off the field as well, in his decade-plus career in New Zealand rugby."
All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen echoed the sentiment.
"All this success couldn't have happened to a better bloke and we wish him all the very best for the future," he said during the announcement.
"In my opinion, he will go down not only as the greatest All Black of all time, but the greatest captain we have ever had and possibly the greatest player to have ever played the game in the modern era."
Raising the Webb Ellis cup for the first time on overseas turf, and captaining the first team to retain international rugby's highest honor, McCaw has secured his position as an All Blacks legend. McCaw, who played through the 2011 final with a broken foot, saw a dream end to his time as an All Black with victory over fierce rivals Australia at Twickenham.
Stunningly effective both going forward and defending, as well as a remarkable reading of the game, he was not without controversy either -- being no stranger to rugby's "sin bin," when players are temporarily suspended for infractions.
His career is scattered with superlatives, including the highest number of tests by any player in rugby union history, and the most wins. His 110-match captaincy is also a record. He also won a clutch of awards including IRB Newcomer of the year in 2001, and three IRB Player of the Year awards.
He follows fellow All Black legend Dan Carter into international retirement
, but unlike Carter will not continue playing club rugby.
Tributes pour in
The rugby world today reacted to the news with a mixture of sadness, admiration and pride. Even bitter rivals Australia called him "one of the greats," and congratulated him on "an amazing career."
Others simply thanked McCaw for his remarkable contribution to the sport.
Moving on up
Following his retirement McCaw, an honorary squadron leader of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, plans to pursue a career as a helicopter pilot.
The news comes just a day after another All Blacks titan, Jonah Lomu, died suddenly at home
in Auckland. McCaw acknowledged the difficulty of the timing of his announcement, and paid tribute to Lomu Thursday from Wellington.
"Today, I thought about whether it was the right thing to do this," he said. "But I'm going to be hanging up my boots.
"I was thinking about my experiences with Jonah. When I first became an All Black he was in the team. To play alongside a guy you have watched as a young fella was pretty amazing."