RICHARD KNOWLER 06/06/2011
Richie McCaw's foot injury has returned to plague him and he will miss the Crusaders' final two crucial matches ahead of the playoffs.
Captain McCaw, who had a screw inserted into a fractured metatarsal bone in his right foot in early February, had a scan following the Crusaders' 17-16 loss to the Queensland Reds on May 29 that revealed the screw is irritating the bone.
While the revelation will have caused All Blacks coach Graham Henry's pulse to spike a few notches with less than 100 days remaining before the World Cup, it is Crusaders boss Todd Blackadder who has to deal with the conundrum in the immediate future.
He now has to skittle the Blues in Timaru this weekend, and the Hurricanes in Wellington in the final round, without the All Blacks openside flanker while attempting to shoot his side to the top of the New Zealand conference table.
"Richie's probably going to be out for the next two to three weeks," Blackadder confirmed yesterday. "His foot just feels a little bit uncomfortable and he had a scan on it last week – it just showed the bone is healing nicely but it is still not 100 percent. While it is not getting any worse, it just needs to heal properly."
With his men having last week off with the bye, Blackadder was hoping to have a near full-strength line-up available for the must-win match against the Blues at Alpine Energy Stadium.
Now, with McCaw convalescing, No 8 Kieran Read will reassume the captaincy and Matt Todd will again be given the No 7 jersey.
Blackadder added he was not prepared to risk McCaw so close to the finals which begin on June 24-25: "If he was to play through it he could risk further damage. It is not great news for us, but if we manage him and rule him out for the next few weeks it is likely he will make a full recovery.
"It definitely has not broken again; there is just a bit of irritation around where the screw is on the bone."
The Blues, who suffered their third consecutive defeat when they were beaten 16-11 by the Chiefs at Eden Park on Saturday night, still sit at the head of the New Zealand conference on 55 points – two ahead of the Crusaders.
If the Crusaders finish in the top two teams on the overall Super ladder they will earn a bye in the opening playoff round; for McCaw that extra week could be crucial to his recovery as he seeks to guide the franchise to their first title since 2008.
Of the 13 matches the Crusaders have played this season, McCaw has appeared in just five and started four. He missed the majority because of the foot complaint, but skipped the Stormers fixture because of concussion.
On the positive side, Sam Whitelock, who tore ankle ligaments against the Sharks on March 27, survived his return match for his Lincoln University club without incident at the weekend and could start in Timaru.
"If he is feeling 100 per cent fit and he's good, I may be tempted to start him," Blackadder said. "These guys have got to expect to play the 80 minutes."
Halfback Andy Ellis will also be fit to start after thumb surgery in late April.
- The Press