RICHARD KNOWLER -The Press
Even when nursing his bung foot, Richie McCaw couldn't resist flicking on the idiot box to watch some of his favourite sporting code.
One luxury offered by the fractured metatarsal bone that ruled the All Blacks captain out of the opening eight rounds of the Super competition was being able to view games for enjoyment, rather than as an openside flanker searching for opponents' weaknesses.
In recent weeks, however, as he shed the moon boot that was wrapped about his foot and returned to running, McCaw began to focus on strategies and game plans in preparation for his comeback in tonight's match against the Chiefs at Mount Maunganui's Baypark Stadium.
"I think you watch them from a bit of a spectator point of view, but probably for the last couple of weeks you start thinking about what you would do – especially watching our boys play. I love the game, so I watch what I can."
When coach Todd Blackadder unloads him off the bench, probably around the 50-minute mark, every All Blacks supporter will cross their fingers that the screw in the fifth metatarsal bone of the world's best player's right foot holds firm.
This is, after all, World Cup year, and when McCaw was delivered in Oamaru Hospital on December 31, 1980, the mould was broken. He is an original that stands alone in the No7 jersey.
McCaw says his goals are simple tonight: to suck some air into the lungs, get his body used to the physical confrontation of his first match in almost five months and resist tearing about like a startled rabbit.
"When it gets a bit tough or when you try and do too much, you end up doing nothing properly. That is the key, and hopefully that is the case – you have to think about that a little bit."
Surprisingly, Chiefs coach Ian Foster has elected to bench Scott Waldrom, one of his most effective loosies, for the Crusaders' first visit to Tauranga, and may gamble on bringing him into the match to counter McCaw's arrival from the pine.
When trouncing the Bulls 27-0 last weekend, the Crusaders proved they can survive without playmaker Dan Carter, and they will be expected to do so again next weekend against the Highlanders in Nelson.
Matt Berquist will have suppressed any nerves among the coaching staff with his solid effort in Timaru, although he will likely be instructed to kick more if the Crusaders get bogged down inside their own half.