While Richie McCaw has been awarded a two-week holiday pass from the Super 15, Brad Thorn will be expected to slap on the body armour for the Crusaders' first match, against the Blues at Eden Park on February 19.
Coach Todd Blackadder yesterday confirmed captain McCaw will be the Crusaders' sole All Black to be rested from the opening away matches against the Blues and against the Hurricanes on February 26 as he and All Blacks coach Graham Henry aim to manage his workload in World Cup year.
That opensider flanker McCaw will be rested is no bombshell – he skipped the first two rounds last year – although there had been speculation that veteran lock Thorn, who turns 36 on February 3, would also be given a breather.
Not so, says Blackadder, who will aim to give the majority of his All Blacks a run in the penultimate pre-season match against the Rebels in Melbourne on February 5 before the last hit-out against the Highlanders in Oamaru on February 11.
Although he will report to training along with the rest of the internationals on January 31, McCaw, who will make his first appearance against the Waratahs at AMI Stadium on March 4, is being granted extra leave to allow him to freshen his mind and body before shouldering the load of captaining the Crusaders and then the All Blacks in the global tournament.
"He was the Crusader of the year last year ... It was great what he gave the team, so that will be reciprocated and he gets that extra two weeks off," Blackadder said. "He is probably in the most demanding role of anyone in rugby, isn't he."
Last year Thorn missed the opening two rounds, a decision prompted by the second rower carrying minor injuries and missing the pre-season games. But if fully fit next month he is expected to take the field alongside fellow All Black lock Sam Whitelock.
While Andy Ellis and Whitelock returned to training duties this week and Owen Franks had to be persuaded to abstain from ripping straight back into duties when he returned from the All Blacks' northern hemisphere tour late last year, the likes of Dan Carter, Kieran Read and Sonny Bill Williams, McCaw and Thorn will not return until January 31.
Blackadder noted that if Franks had had his way, he would have dived right back into pre-season training under conditioning coach Ashley Jones. Instead, the coach had to tug on the reins.
"We sent him away, don't worry. It is fantastic he wanted to train, but he just needs a mental break."
Owen's older brother, Ben, who was invalided out of the All Blacks tour with a back strain, has been back training but is expected to skip the first pre-season match against the Queensland Reds in Cairns on January 29.
"Some All Blacks will probably get a bit of contact against the Rebels," Blackadder confirmed. "If they all want to be available for the first game against the Blues, then they will need a good hitout in Oamaru."
- The Press