The Super 15 took another smack to the chops and this time it was delivered by the greatest of All Blacks, Richie McCaw, who has extended his Super holiday and sent the 2013 competition a Dear John postcard.
As great as McCaw is - the best ever in my opinion - this holiday caper has reached the unacceptable point where he is is being treated as bigger than the game, with automatic entry into the All Blacks without quality lead-up games required.
McCaw's latest holiday decision is another example of the Super 15 being trampled on by the New Zealand Rugby Union, All Black coaches and players themselves, with the World Cup omnipresent. The Crusaders' loss in Perth made it doubly important they get their No1 man back sooner rather than never at all.
The Crusaders - once the benchmark for attitude - don't all seem to care like they used to, what with Dan Carter cruising in the No 10 jersey and then zipping off on paternity leave.
The original deal was that McCaw, who last played against England in early December, would return for three Super 15 games and then the playoffs, if the Crusaders made them, before hurtling back into test action mid-August. It was a friendly schedule too, because those three conference games are in New Zealand, with two in Christchurch. But he's reneged on that, with the blessing of the All Black-pampering hierarchy of course, and won't play for the Crusaders at all.
The Super 15 is regarded so lowly, and the NZRU's grip on the game so tight, that Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder hadn't even been quoted on the subject at the time of writing this. Instead, All Black coach Steve Hansen put his two cents in of course, and a Crusaders spokesperson simply confirmed the new arrange-ment like it was a decision about turning the pie warmer up a degree. McCaw hasn't spoken publicly, in classic Kremlin style.
Hansen blathered on about mental freshness, but how long does it take to freshen up? And try talking mental freshness to all the Joe and Jane Does out there, who slog through each week barely making ends meet.
McCaw was already on a whopping seven-month break from top football, and now that has blossomed by six more weeks, with the player saying he wasn't comfort-able taking the place of Matt Todd, George Whitelock or Shayne Christie. A nice-guy excuse, you might say, but he always knew this would be the case. Since when did the players start picking the teams? And we don't pay our Sky subscription to watch Shayne Christie, whoever he is.
McCaw will be grabbing the place of whichever All Black fills in for him in the test series against France, so he isn't totally immune to playing a part in the injustices of life. Even the great one should be under some obligation to prove his form, and going into top-level tests on such a long break - save for some club games - is bizarre and could hurt his reputation and the All Blacks' chances.
There are other things to consider - like Blackadder's future and the financial implications - of the Crusaders remaining under-strength. There are no guarantees that these super holiday concepts work anyway - remember 2007 - because the body needs to retain certain elements of conditioning. Whether he's playing or not, McCaw is getting older. His Super 15 opponents and All Blacks rivals also deserve the right to go head-to-head with the top dog.
What's changed? Maybe he suspects the Crusaders will have to travel in the playoffs, but that was alway a possibility. With the Crusaders faring worse than predicted, he can't claim to be leaving them in good hands. So get out there, and let the future take care of itself.
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