Friday, April 27, 2012

McCaw's return sparks outbreak of nerves Richard Knowler April 27, 2012

RICHIE McCAW is back - and the mind games have begun.

Having been named on the bench for Sunday's match against the Waratahs in Sydney, McCaw is likely to have created some uncertainty, and maybe even a few pangs of paranoia, among teammates Matt Todd and George Whitelock.

While Crusaders fans were buoyed by McCaw's long-awaited return from a foot injury, breakaways Todd and Whitelock might not be celebrating.

Three breakaways cannot fill two starting spots, which means either Todd or Whitelock could have their neck on the chopping block before next weekend's match against the Queensland Reds at AMI Stadium.

This scenario adds more pressure to perform against the Waratahs, and Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder should have some empathy; his own playing career was cut short by the arrival of a young Chris Jack in the early 2000s. He now hopes the reactions of Todd and Whitelock can create some welcome mayhem around the selection table.

''They start looking over their shoulder - Richie is coming back, where does that leave me? We see a few insecurities [but] this has always been about team, it hasn't always been about one person,'' Blackadder emphasised. ''It is important the guys keep fighting and competing for a place because everyone at times has to earn the right.''

Blackadder was light on details of which breakaway position McCaw would play or for how long. It is likely he will enter his first match in six months at the 50-minute mark but he could yet operate in a left-right tandem with Todd.

''I am conscious too that George has got a little niggle at the moment, which I would like to look after, and Matt Todd has been on fire. I want to keep them all hot and involved.''

McCaw is expected to command a starting spot, and probably the captaincy, when the Crusaders meet the Reds. No. 8 Kieran Read could be rested, allowing either McCaw or Whitelock to operate from No. 8, leaving Todd in the No. 7 jersey.

Blackadder has several other options. He could either run McCaw and Todd as a left-right combination or retain Whitelock on the blindside.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has made it clear he views McCaw as a No. 7 and has no intention of moving the 31-year-old.



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