DIFFERENT STROKES: Injured Crusaders captain Richie McCaw signals a six at the Canterbury Earthquake Appeal Twenty20 charity cricket match at the Basin Reserve in Wellington yesterday.
Richie McCaw's recovery from foot surgery may take longer than expected, although that should be little reason for rugby hypochondriacs to lunge for their medicine cabinets just yet.
When McCaw revealed last month he required an operation to have a screw inserted into a broken metatarsal bone in his right foot it was hoped he would return to playing for the Crusaders for their eighth-round "home" match against the Bulls on April 9.
But with coach Todd Blackadder not optimistic about having his captain back training until early next month, there is a chance his first outing of the year could be delayed until the ninth-round fixture against the Chiefs in Mt Maunganui on April 15.
Although McCaw is now out of his "moon boot" and walking without showing discomfort, Blackadder will not be shunting the openside flanker back into Super action unless he is confident he will be fit – and it is an opinion that will be reinforced by All Blacks coach Graham Henry.
"His recovery has been a bit slower than expected and he could still be two weeks away from running," Blackadder acknowledged yesterday.
"And that means he could be another week away from being involved in contact training – which means he could be four or five weeks away from playing yet."
The Crusaders, who sit second on the New Zealand conference table just one point behind the Highlanders, have matches against the Highlanders and Stormers remaining before their bye in early April followed by their fixture against the Bulls.
The good news for Blackadder is that McCaw's replacement, rookie Matt Todd, has proved capable in their opening three Super matches and the squad's mood will be buoyant after humiliating the Brumbies 52-10 at Nelson's Trafalgar Park on Friday night. Having planned to be without McCaw for the opening two rounds as part of a contractual agreement to let him extend his off-season, Blackadder had time to prepare Todd as his replacement. Blackadder also has the options of using George Whitelock, Jonathan Poff or Kieran Read at No7 if his incumbent fetcher falls injured or his form begins to wilt.
Injured Tasman lock-loose forward Joe Wheeler, who can also provide cover, is still several weeks away from returning while lock Sam Whitelock is an option to move to No6 if Blackadder is forced to replace Todd.
"We certainly will not be rushing Richie back before he is ready," Blackadder added.
Blackadder, who may also have wing Zac Guildford and halfback Kahn Fotuali'i as options this week as they recover from hamstring and back injuries, said he had not been surprised by the Highlanders successes against the Hurricanes, Chiefs and Bulls.
Although beaten 18-6 by the Stormers in Cape Town at the weekend, Blackadder saw enough in last month's pre-season match against the Highlanders in Oamaru – which the Crusaders won comfortably – to suggest they would be far more physical at the post-tackle contest.
"I was impressed by their physicality at the breakdown – they just put so much heat on there."
The Highlanders struggled in this facet against the bigger Stormers pack and, despite earning enough possession, they struggled to penetrate the defensive screens.
BACK FROM INJURY
Crusaders midfielder Ryan Crotty will appear for the Crusader Knights in the team's Pacific Rugby Cup match against Tonga at Lincoln University today.
Crotty, who will play second-five tomorrow, has not played any rugby since injuring a thumb before Christmas. He will join fellow Crusaders back Zac Guildford in the starting lineup.
Guildford also has yet to play in this season's Super Rugby competition after straining a hamstring in the Crusaders' final pre-season match against the Highlanders in Oamaru.
The Knights will be trying to preserve their perfect record in the Pacific Knights Cup competition after they accounted for Fiji 55-7 at Carisbrook and sneaked home 22-21 against Samoa in Timaru.
Crusaders halfback Kahn Fotuali'i, who hasn't played this season due to a back injury, will sit on the reserves bench. The match starts at 5pm.