Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: McCaw's return means hard call

Richie McCaw is expected to be declared fit for next week's semifinal. Photo / Getty Images
Richie McCaw is expected to be declared fit for next week's semifinal. Photo / Getty Images

The return of Richie McCaw to the Crusaders for their semifinal next Saturday will present coach Todd Blackadder with a dilemma. Where to play him?

For Blackadder, it is a good problem to have, but someone within the hard-working and talented loose forward trio of Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua and Kieran Read is about to be disappointed, and it isn't likely to be No8 Read, judged last year as the world's best player.

What may result is a sort of compromise solution - a bit like Dan Carter, the world's best No10, who is playing at second-five outside Colin Slade and making a good fist of it, too.

If McCaw is fit, and all signs are that he will pass today's crucial contact session at Crusaders' HQ, he is likely to play at blindside flanker, with the in-form Todd keeping his place at openside flanker and Read remaining at No8.

It is harsh on Taufua, a 22-year-old who has impressed hugely this season, but Blackadder will want McCaw's experience on the field and probably from the start. Having Taufua on the bench, ready to join the fray in the second half against a side weary after travelling to Christchurch, will be another ace up Blackadder's sleeve.

Playing McCaw and Carter, two players considered among the best ever to have played for the All Blacks, out of their preferred positions might seem odd but it is a formula that is likely to work best for the Crusaders.

Todd, who has re-signed for the Crusaders, is developing into such a threat with his ball-carrying that he has probably overtaken McCaw in this regard. He has always been a good defender and turnover merchant.

Likewise, playing Carter at second-five allows Slade to continue at No10, where he has been consistently good, and it is a neat solution for their lack of depth in midfield. Ryan Crotty has been playing well at centre and moving the 108kg Kieron Fonotia out one position means the Crusaders can field two big wings, although he looks small compared with the 125kg Nadolo.

Blackadder will keep an interested eye on how the qualifiers go this weekend and will probably feel that destiny is calling. If the Sharks beat the Highlanders in Durban on Sunday morning, the Crusaders will host Jake White's men, who would return to Christchurch after their unlikely round-robin victory with 13 men for a match against a team determined to right what they considered an embarrassing result.

- NZ Herald

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