Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: McCaw eyes a starting spot for Crusaders

Richie McCaw. Photo / Getty Images
Richie McCaw. Photo / Getty Images

Richie McCaw is likely to make his first start in a match since the Rugby World Cup final for the Crusaders against the Rebels on Saturday.

The prospect of getting an extended run out of loose forward McCaw is a welcome one for the Crusaders. He played in the final half hour of their victory over the Waratahs in Sydney two weeks ago and a little longer in the tense 15-11 win over the Reds in Christchurch on Sunday as he eased his way back from a foot injury which troubled him all last year. His leadership and ability to influence games is just what his side needs in the run-in to the Super Rugby playoffs.

Fellow All Black Dan Carter is likely to remain at second-five for Saturday night's match in Melbourne. He is still unable to practice goalkicking due to his groin problem, and Tom Taylor's accuracy means the 23-year-old will probably get the nod for the No 10 jersey again. Even a fully-fit Carter would struggle to match Taylor's 85 per cent goalkicking percentage this season.

Having reviewed the match - and the multiple errors - coach Todd Blackadder yesterday conceded his side "dodged a bullet" in beating last season's champions.

"We didn't perform, we made silly errors, we probably dodged a bullet but it was a good one to dodge," Blackadder said.

The Crusaders did well to recover from a start which was about as bad as it gets. Lock Tom Donnelly hurt his back 80 minutes before kickoff, which resulted in Sam Whitelock getting a quick promotion from the reserves and Ross Kennedy, who played a club match the day before, sitting on the bench.

The Reds then scored virtually straight from the kickoff, halfback Andy Ellis making a hash of an attempted clearance and the Queenslanders scoring through hooker James Hanson.

Although the Crusaders tried time and again to find a way through the Reds' defence, their constant mistakes meant their points were confined to those kicked by Taylor.

While it was an off-key performance from the home side in front of a sellout Christchurch Stadium, Blackadder said the mistakes didn't necessarily come through their eagerness to put one over their Australian rivals.

The Reds hurt the Crusaders twice last season when winning a controversial round-robin match in Brisbane - McCaw was penalised in the final minutes for offside in front of the posts - and in the final at the same venue, the Queenslanders winning 18-13.

"It wasn't about payback for us, it was about putting in a performance," said Blackadder.

"If we had got our game going we could have put them to the sword."

There were a few positives for Blackadder, the first being the four competition points which allowed them to overtake the Highlanders for second place in the New Zealand conference and fifth on the overall table.

The scrum caused the Reds plenty of trouble and there was the pleasing sight of Carter running with purpose in what is becoming a more familiar role at second-five. And McCaw showed he is willing and able to step up his involvement.

- APNZ

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