Monday, April 11, 2011

Richie McCaw may be bound for the bench RICHARD KNOWLER 11/04/2011

The reunion between Richie McCaw and the Crusaders No7 jersey may have to wait. Despite McCaw returning to team training last week for the first time since breaking a bone in his foot over the summer, Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder could resist starting him in Friday night's match against the Chiefs at Mount Maunganui.

Barring any injury hangovers from last Saturday night's 27-0 win over the Bulls in Timaru, Blackadder appears set to stick with Matt Todd and give the world's best openside flanker his first game of 2011 with the No19 on his back.

"I probably wouldn't risk starting him," Blackadder said."Possibly I will get him off the bench and ease him into it a little bit."

This is a luxury few other coaches have and had the Crusaders been struggling, Blackadder may not be so sanguine. But with five consecutive wins and at the head of the Super table, the Crusaders are the envy of the competition.

Now it seems Todd will start before McCaw swipes the No7 jersey and the captain's armband against the Highlanders in Nelson the following weekend. Then the Crusaders will head to Perth, Cape Town and Bloemfontein.

With eight rounds gone and nine remaining before the playoffs, Blackadder is scrutinising those internationals who are showing signs of fatigue but will also be mindful of snapping too many combinations.

The deal struck with the All Blacks coaches is understood to involve the Super coaches agreeing to rest key World Cup players from two regular season matches, and not playing the Hurricanes following the February 22 earthquake means Blackadder only has to rest his men for one more fixture.

With Dan Carter skipping the Bulls match with a hamstring strain he should, ideally, be available for all remaining games but forwards Brad Thorn and Kieran Read will need to be rested.

Blackadder noted he was monitoring the 36-year-old Thorn's progress throughout the season and before fellow All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock suffered an ankle injury, he had contemplated not selecting Thornto play the Stormers and Cheetahs.

"I was looking at the opportunity of maybe not taking him, but obviously with Sam Whitelock not being there I don't have a lot of choice; but I may not play Brad in the Perth game (against the Force) and that will give him a week off and then take him to Africa.
"I'm just not sure. I have to do a little bit of planning and work all that out. First things are first and that is to keep this machine rolling."

Another who could be rested is halfback Andy Ellis, and his replacement Kahn Fotuali'i is no slug, but the All Blacks halfback would have none of it.

"I want to keep playing, given the momentum we have at the moment," Ellis said.

Winning the derby matches – there are five remaining – to automatically qualify for the playoffs will remain Blackadder's priority and the return of Carter's leadership skills against the Chiefs will offer further insurance if he resists starting McCaw. Although Matt Berquist did a sound job against the Bulls, Blackadder felt the Crusaders got caught "between two game plans" by not kicking for territory enough. That will stop with Carter's return.

- The Press


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