REVIEW: After enduring another physical battle with David Pocock at the breakdown, All Blacks captain Richie McCaw still had enough energy to come down hard on himself once the Crusaders had closed out a 42-30 Super rugby win over the Western Force in Perth last night.
Although McCaw typically led from the front in his first start since the All Blacks Grand Slam-clinching test at Cardiff in November, he did not exactly begin as he means to continue after being sinbinned for persistent ruck infringements by New Zealand referee Vinnie Munro in the 46th minute.
McCaw was penalised twice in the first half at nib Stadium -- costing the Crusaders six points -- and when he lent over opposing No.8 Ben McCalman soon after the restart Munro's patience wore out and he brandished a yellow.
Former Hurricanes first five-eighth Willie Ripia goaled the resulting penalty and seven minutes into his temporary suspension McCaw watched uncomfortably as the Force made their numerical advantage count when Cameron Shepherd dived over in the corner to push the Force ahead in a seesaw contest.
McCaw though made amends for the concession of those points, 14 in all, when he returned.
A bullocking run from the tail of a scrum in the 70th minute initiated Corey Flynn's try to poke the Crusaders in front; Kahn Fotuali'i then ensured the Force were denied their own bonus point when he finally cracked the defence after a concerted build-up.
McCaw, who had previous played 29 minutes off the bench against the Chiefs three weeks ago as he managed a foot injury, was satisfied with his fitness levels but not as impressed with his timing and technique at the collision.
"I was a bit disappointed with myself to be honest," he said.
"I knew it was pretty critical to have discipline, I was barking that at the boys and I was the one that gave that penalty away and ended up in the bin.
"You could put it down to a bit of rust but I should have been smarter than that.
"I'm just thankful we got stuck in and got the win."
McCaw was not the only culprit as the Crusaders relented after reproducing the style last seen at Twickenham -- the benefit of two sublime Israel Dagg tries inside eight minutes was steadily undone by ill-discipline.
O'Connor narrowed the gap to 15-9 with three penalties and then Shepherd scored the first of his double at the end of a helter skelter phase of attack and counter attack that enthralled the capacity crowd of 22,000.
Sonny Bill Williams, who dominated his midfield match-up with bantamweight O'Connor, ensured that lead was short lived - about 60 seconds - when he finished off a Dagg break but the Force were still only down by three at halftime after McCaw's second indiscretion.
McCaw and man-of-the-match Pocock - who was playing his first game since suffering a knee injury in round three - were naturally not at their sharpest when renewing their rivalry but thankfully for Graham Henry and Wallabies counterpart Robbie Deans both emerged unscathed.
"It (the foot) got jumped on at one point but it feels pretty good, it wasn't an issue at all," said McCaw after the Crusaders improved to second behind the Blues in the New Zealand conference.
"I felt remarkably good lungs-wise in getting round the track. Perhaps my timing. you feel your way back into that. I'm pretty happy where I'm at and I'm sure I'll be better for it next week."
The composition of the Crusaders loose trio for Sunday's (NZT) clash against the Stormers in Newlands is yet to be determined but McCaw and Kieran Read - who returns from a two-week rest - look destined to run on.
Matt Todd, McCaw's understudy at openside, turned in another strong performance last night so George Whitelock could be the flanker relegated to the bench unless the Super rugby rookie is given a well-deserved rest.
Meanwhile, Blackadder is resigned to not having versatile All Blacks prop Ben Franks available after he injured his back during the opening quarter.
A medical assessment will be carried out tomorrow before the team fly to Johannesburg but the initial prognosis was not good.
Andrew Olorenshaw is already with the squad while Southland's Nick Barrett, a member of the wider training group, has been placed on stand-by.