Richie McCaw says he’s ready to play whatever role the Crusaders require of him this week as his team continues its remarkable Super Rugby journey with a semifinal visit to the Stormers in Cape Town.
McCaw confirmed at Nelson airport before boarding the first plane of many over the next few days that he’s available for selection, that his problem foot is ready for what should be a clash of test-match intensity and that he’s confident in his ability to slot in, after a couple of weeks of inactivity.
“It feels all right,” said the All Blacks captain. “It’s still not quite 100 percent but it’s certainly a lot better than it was last time I played. Having those couple of weeks off was the right thing to do. Training last week was pretty much symptom free, so I just need to get through the games now.”
The openside flanker, who will reassume the Crusaders captaincy if Todd Blackadder picks him to start, said he put himself through a rigorous week of training to prove his readiness for this week. He then had a nervous 80 minutes watching from the coach’s box at Trafalgar Park on Saturday night to see if his team-mates could keep their season alive.
They obliged in some style, running away from the Sharks over the second 40 of the semifinal qualifier to secure a commanding 36-8 victory. That earned the Crusaders one more massive road trip that will take their mileage for the season past the 100,000km mark.
The Crusaders returned to Christchurch this morning and then had time only to say their goodbyes to family and friends at the airport before boarding a flight to Sydney where they were to complete their recovery process and stay overnight.
From there they were on an early Monday flight through to Johannesburg, and then a short transfer south to the coastal city of Cape Town where the well-rested Stormers are waiting after their weekend off.
But McCaw said one more long trip on the never-ending tour that has been the Crusaders’ historic quake-ravaged season would be nothing his men couldn’t handle.
“We’ve done it enough times and that’s just the reality of what you’ve got to do to win the thing,” said the classy flanker of the big haul to the Republic. “We’re going to go over there expecting to do well and do the job. If you go over with an out you won’t [win]. That’s the way we’ll approach it. We’ve done that all year, we’ve been all over the place and not used any of that as an excuse and this week will be no different.”
Luckily for the Crusaders the vastly experienced McCaw – he has played 94 tests – is exactly the sort of player who will handle slotting back into a winning team at such a vital stage of the season.
“I don’t know what Todd’s plan is this week but I’ll certainly put my name in the mix,” he said. “I suppose the one thing is I’ve done it before. I’ve just got to get out there and get stuck in. I’m just lucky I’m available before the season’s finished. That’s exciting and now I’ve just got to get into it.”
With Sonny Bill Williams and Sean Maitland both coming through their return matches against the Sharks unscathed (Williams required a few stitches afterwards following a cut to his hand) and McCaw now added to the mix, the seven-time champions are all but at full strength for a remarkable 10th straight semifinal appearance.
“We take a wee bit of confidence in that but you’ve got to do the job now and it’s not going to be easy,” added McCaw as his men looked to repeat their round-robin victory at Newlands. “They’ll be hurting from what happened that first time, they’ve had a week off to freshen up, and we’ve just got to make sure we meet their physicality. That’s what we did last time and how we got on top.”
McCaw said physicality was the hallmark of the Stormers but by no means their only attribute.
“They’ve got some ability to play and you saw when they came on the tour over here they played pretty good rugby – pretty efficient is probably the way I’d describe it.
“They’re a big forward pack, they get some go-forward and put the ball at the right end of the field, and they’re happy to do it in threes if need be. It’s going to be a good challenge but they’re a team if we get stuck into them, there are opportunities there too.”
The 30-year-old said he had been impressed with the second half in Nelson, where key corrections were made in areas such as the breakdown and on defence, but that an 80-minute effort would be needed this week.
And with the loose trio going well, led by a brilliant display at Trafalgar Park from Kieran Read at No 8, McCaw is aware he has high standards to live up to.
Luckily for the Crusaders he’s just the man to take that challenge on.
- Fairfax Media