Monday, May 09, 2011

McCaw out of potential classic with Stormers


Richie McCaw was yesterday withdrawn from the Crusaders team to play the Stormers after waking with a headache following a knock on the head against the Force in Perth last weekend.
McCaw had been experiencing headaches during the week and was withdrawn from the team on medical advice.

"He had been progressing well during the week, but he was withdrawn as a precautionary measure when he woke up with a headache," a Crusaders spokesman said.Kieran Read will take over the Crusaders captaincy, Matt Todd who was on the bench will move into the No7 slot, and Jonathan Poff will come on to the bench.

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder is still hopeful McCaw will be available for the match against the Cheetahs at Bloemfontein this weekend.

Meanwhile, South African rugby fans are salivating over the clash in the centres tonight between the Bruise Brothers from the Crusaders and the Stormers.

Crusaders backs coach Daryl Gibson said the Cape Town media had been whipping up a frenzy of expectation at Sonny Bill Williams' first visit to South Africa.

"They are saying it's Sonny v the Stormers – that's the impact he is having on this competition," Gibson said.

He wasn't kidding. Craig Ray, writing on the Times Live website, yesterday likened the joust between Williams and Robbie Fruean in the red corner, and Springboks Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie in the blue corner, to one of modern boxing's greatest bouts.

"Like Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran in 1980, these four centres will meet each at the height of their powers," Ray wrote. "De Villiers and Fourie are playing the best rugby of their careers. So are the Crusaders duo. Something has to give [tomorrow morning, NZ time]."

Leonard and Duran? They were welterweights. The four rugby players pacing the turf at Newlands would fight up a few divisions. Maybe it should be billed as Frazier-Ali?

The tale of the tape backs up the claim that the centres' wrestle relegates other personal duels – Chris Jack v Andries Bekker, Wyatt Crockett v CJ van der Linde – to undercard status.

All eyes are on the midfield marauders, part-time boxer Williams (1.91m, 108kg) and sidekick Fruean (1.90m, 104kg) v de Villiers (1.90m, 103kg) and Fourie (1.90m, 105kg). Yikes, these tykes are built like loose forwards.

"There are four big men in the midfield who are really going to go at each other. It should be an interesting contest," Gibson said with evident relish.

Ray wrote that Williams mania in South Africa was akin to the fervour surrounding Jonah Lomu in his prime and that no-one seemed all that fazed that All Blacks ace Dan Carter is not playing.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder tried to take the public pressure off his star recruit by saying that as good as Williams had been in his debut Super rugby season, "it's too much to put it on just one guy to expect him to break the Stormers down".

"This isn't the Sonny Bill Williams team. Everyone is going to have to play their part."
Even Stormers skipper Schalk Burger warned the Crusaders were much more "than Sonny Bill Williams".

Gibson said the Williams-Fruean combination had added a dimension to the Crusaders' attack this season and the extra attention paid to Williams by opposition defenders "frees up the space that the [Crusaders] back three have been utilising".

Fullback Israel Dagg and wings Sean Maitland and Zac Guildford have been making the most of any opportunity. Gibson said they created and scored "some fantastic tries last week" in Perth but had "balanced their instinct to run" with sound decision-making around when to pass or kick. He "certainly doesn't want to stifle their creativity" against a Stormers side renowned for their suffocating backline defence.

De Villiers and Fourie have been every bit as effective – maybe even more so – as the Crusaders' midfield duo. They have seamlessly replicated their Springbok partnership in Super rugby since de Villiers' return from a season with Irish club Munster and Fourie's transfer from the luckless Lions. De Villiers, 30, and Fourie, 28 are also vastly more experienced than their Crusaders' markers. Will guile or style prevail tomorrow? Will youthful exuberance overcome native cunning?
The Press

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