Forget soccer or cricket. For a sport so widely played across the world and far lesser-known in the United States, Chasing Great provides a unique insight into a sport most Americans are not familiar with.
Let’s not skim the top here. There’s no explanation of the rules and there need not be, nor should one enter this film expecting the opening narrative dialogue in countless sports classics like Miracle, Slap Shot, and of course, Dodgeball. Chasing Great is a documentary about Richie McCaw, a man who happens to be the captain of the world’s most famous rugby team, and arguably the sport’s best player. But it’s also the story of a man with a particularly average talent who practiced constantly to become the best, and is grappling with retiring in fame.
The doc follows Richie McCaw, captain of New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby team from 2004 to 2015. McCaw is, without a doubt, an extraordinary player on the field and a rather interesting person off. He’s been awarded World Rugby Player of the Year three times. He’s a world record holder, holding the most caps for a rugby player. This American will describe “capped” as the following: the number of games you play. So McCaw holds the record for having played the most rugby games at 148.
Glad we got that out of the way. McCaw’s rise from playing rugby for fun at school to practicing for countless hours and becoming the world’s best player makes up much of the screen time. In addition, his family life growing up to his marriage, the notes he writes to himself before games, and even his barely legal style of playing takes the other portion of the film. And of course, the little snip-its of game time could make any rugby-averse American like the sport.
What makes the film so remarkable is that it was shot during the final matches McCaw had to deal with. It’s in the present, the idea of fame and retirement so close and yet so real. There’s no retrospect, there are no hypotheticals: it’s there in the moment and McCaw and his team have to combat it. They either fight to win back to back titles, or they lose and McCaw retires having been a good captain.
Rugby fanatics know how it turned out and can watch it for the in-depth and in-the-know scenes between McCaw and his team. Those who don’t can enter the film without warning and nonetheless take away a nervous yet aspiring captain who worked so hard and won’t stop.
The documentary saw its American premiere on Wednesday in New York, accompanied by co-director Michelle Walshe (co-director Justin Pemberton couldn’t make it) and other sports greats. Current General Manager for the Brooklyn Nets and former GM for the San Antonio Spurs Sean Marks was in attendance, just as four-time Olympian for discus throwing and current Consul General and Trade Commissioner, Beatrice Faumuina ONZM, and AIG’s Global Head of Sponsorship, Daniel Glantz.
“When discussing pressure and sport, you either got two options: you either run away from it or you own it. I chose to own it. By doing that, you reveal exactly what it’s like what you were going through,” said Faumuina when asked by Walshe on how she tackles pressure. “What it was like to be at peace, what it’s like to be offshore, what’s it like to the be only one among the guys or the only one who’s won a world title in 1997. And you come off from that and you go ‘what does this really mean?” What is the impact on them for not only sport but also New Zealand and places that are involved in sport and technology? And how involved are we in the processes? So all of those thoughts are going through your mind and, fundamentally, at the end, it’s going ‘and thank goodness I have a really strong family.'”
Sean Marks spoke about the change from the Spurs to the Nets and how much he has to look forward to for the team’s future. “I think some of the best lessons I learned from Coach Popovich was having honest conversations and that means I’m having honest conversations with everybody that works there, and they, in turn, have to talk with each other. Many with whom I’ve worked with, they see that and I’m inspired by what they do. It’s not just one person, it’s all of us together. Brooklyn, that’s what we’re trying to do here and the good thing about Brooklyn is that we’re starting from the ground up. There’s no preconceived notions here, so for me, it’s a fun time. It’s not just my voice, it’s the whole group. We collaborate a lot. I hope their voices are heard and I hope their voices are heard just as much if not more than mine because they’re experts in their field just as I hope to be an expert in my field. Again, if I surround myself with a lot of passionate and smart people who are inspired to get this thing right, then I just ask a lot of questions and they’ll get there.”
Check out the film trailer below.