By JAMIE PANDARAM - WA Today
The master of stolen possession, Richie McCaw, does not believe the new interpretations of the rucking rules is taking the contest out of breakdowns, but that it is rather magnifying the importance of flankers.
Fewer turnovers have been made in this season's Super 14 as referees ping tacklers who do not roll away immediately, but All Black and Crusaders captain McCaw said that simply means the better ball-pilferers can change the course of matches.
Some teams have stopped competing at the breakdown at stages, preferring to spread their defensive line out from the ruck.
"I don't think the breakdown has changed – what they have done has been really positive for the game," McCaw said. "It means there are less opportunities to create turnovers, but the one or two you get in a game can be vital. You have got to be a little bit more careful. I don't think they want to stop the breakdown being a contest, that is what makes rugby unique. The new interpretation rewards players who are good at turning over the ball."
McCaw resumes his rivalry against Waratahs captain Phil Waugh tonight, with the pair having encountered each other on several bruising occasions for franchise and countries.
Waugh is regarded as one of the best breakaways Australia has produced, while McCaw is one of the best in the game's history.
"We have a battle tradition, he is a hell of a competitor," McCaw said. "He is not the tallest guy, which helps him out because he gets nice and low and can be quite hard to move. The other thing, no matter what, he is always physical and trying to make a difference at the breakdown, which is an important part of the game. You can't keep your eyes off him for a minute."
McCaw best remembers his clash against Waugh in the 2005 final in Christchurch, which the Crusaders won 35-25.
"I remember have a good battle with their entire loose forward trio and I was knackered after the game," McCaw said. "I remember that because the result came out on the right side."
Many have been surprised to see NSW surge to the top of the ladder. McCaw is not one of them.
"They are deservedly on top of the table – they have been pretty consistent and we realise we're in for a good challenge," he said.
"We played a good 20 minutes last week against the Hurricanes and then eased right off, we know we won't get away with that [tonight]."
McCaw believes the added versatility in the Crusaders squad will ensure it reaches the grand final this year after missing out in 2009 – only the third time in the past 12 years.
"We have still got a load of experience here."