Richard Knowler June 30, 2011
Todd Blackadder has backed Richie McCaw to last the full 80 minutes in Sunday morning's (AEST) Super Rugby semi-final after naming the openside flanker to start against the Stormers at Newlands.
Although McCaw has not played since the May 29 loss to the Queensland Reds because of a foot injury, coach Blackadder has no concerns about his captain's ability to still be on the park when Craig Joubert blows the final whistle.
"I expect him to last. He's one of those guys who just does so much training that he's mentally strong,'' Blackadder noted.
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"He always prepares to play 80 minutes and is used to playing 80 when he has come back from injury in the past. Even if he does feel the pinch, we have a pretty good replacement in Matt Todd.''
The return of McCaw in place of Todd is the only change to the side that beat the Sharks 36-8 in Nelson last weekend.
Despite nursing the sprained ankle he suffered in Nelson and only returning to a light jog at training yesterday, Kieran Read, who hands the captaincy back to McCaw, has been listed at No 8.
With George Whitelock retained at blindside flanker, Todd has been eliminated from the starting 15 and takes his place on the bench at the expense of Jonathan Poff.
McCaw's return also gives the Crusaders more versatility if Read struggles with his ankle problem as he could potentially shift to No 8 as cover, which would allow Todd to slot back into openside flanker.
Retaining Whitelock at No 6 also allows Blackadder to make minimal changes to his run-on 15 and is a fair reward for a player who has started every match this season.
"It is really risky to make too many changes and you want continuity,'' Blackadder stated. "Eight, six and nine, it is important to keep those combinations together and George has had a really consistent season with his performances every week.
"He is under-rated with the way he gets through a massive workload.''
Whitelock also provides the Crusaders with another jumping option at the tail of the lineout, something Blackadder noted was "critical'' against a tall Stormers jumpers Andries Bekker and Rynhardt Elstadt.
Loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett has won Blackadder's approval by being named in the front row for the second consecutive week ahead of Ben Franks who will again be used off the bench. Owen Franks has been retained at tighthead prop.
Crockett should relish the chance to start the semi, having been overlooked for Ben Franks in last year's play-off against the Bulls in Soweto. And with Tony Woodcock still struggling with his foot injury, starting this fixture enhances his hopes of earning an All Blacks re-call for the Tri Nations.
"It's not easy ... it's probably a bit tough on Ben but we have two specialists starting and Ben gives us that flexibility to cover both sides from the bench,'' Blackadder said in regards to his front row selections. "I know the players get caught up in starting and I understand that. But I don't get caught up in it. Everyone is going to play their role.''
Having completed a brief jog along the sideline before training began, Read only walked through the moves at training. Todd ran at openside flanker and McCaw at No 8.
However, Read appears to be healing quickly from the injury and Blackadder had no concerns.
"He'll be right for the game. What is important is that we give him time to recover, rather than rush him back at training.''
The Crusaders will have one more training tomorrow, followed by a captain's run at Newlands the day prior to the match.