James Mortimer - (22/02/2010)
The Crusaders look set to bring back the world's best open side flanker and All Black captain Richie McCaw, after the seven-time champion's Rebel Sport Super 14 campaign suffered a setback in humid conditions in Brisbane.
The Canterbury based side suffered their heaviest defeat in six years, going down 41-20 to a Queensland team that appears to be on the brink of resurgence.
While it is hardly panic stations for Todd Blackadder and his men, they will be keen to get back on track when returning home to their fortress at AMI stadium.
McCaw was to be rested until March 6th, when the Crusaders take on the Blues at home. Effectively the rest period was serving as the mercurial number seven’s “sabbatical” clause, and also acting as enforced recuperation for one of New Zealand rugby’s most tireless warriors.But Blackadder confirmed that the 91 times capped Super rugby veteran would likely rejoin the team against the Sharks, themselves under some pressure after losing two straight at home.
“Part of the plan is that he will be available for the bench,” Blackadder told the Press.“He's definitely keen to come back ... he's breaking down the door to play.”
McCaw has been practicing with the squad, and has been seen as a stoic figure – albeit dressed in civvies – sitting on the bench during the Crusaders matches so far this year.
“He's been to every training run, getting right amongst it. We just didn't want to throw him to the wolves too early,” Blackadder said.
While some believe that the 2009 IRB World Player of the Year should be rushed back into the side, Blackadder will take care with his prized asset.
He is likely to follow the trend almost every Super 14 team has implemented with their key internationals, easing them back into action and not making huge playing demands of them.
There will also be much interest on how McCaw operates in his return to the playing field.The major focus with the new interpretations of the laws has been the promotion of attacking ball at the ruck, and if there was one player whose role could be perceived to have been limited, it is the man playing at fetcher.
Appropriately known as the “Jackal” in the Northern Hemisphere.Blackadder also maintained that the 21 point loss in Brisbane was not a crisis, and was pragmatic when reflecting on the defeat.
“If you were looking at just that one poor performance, you would replace your whole team. It was just one of those nights when nothing went right,” Blackadder said. "We were just not there mentally."
"And then when you try to play catch-up, you just try too hard. In all honesty, the whole team played poorly ... you would have to question our mentality."
It is a mentality that has won seven Super rugby championships, and in the long run, the Reds might not have done anyone a favour as the Crusaders will likely respond in coming weeks.