Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: McCaw in background but Crusaders have more pressing matters

It's looking increasingly likely that All Blacks captain Richie McCaw will make his rugby return in July, after the international window. Photo / Getty Images.
It's looking increasingly likely that All Blacks captain Richie McCaw will make his rugby return in July, after the international window. Photo / Getty Images.

Richie McCaw is back training - by himself - but the Crusaders have more pressing matters to attend to, namely beating the Waratahs tomorrow night.

The sight of McCaw on the sidelines during the Crusaders training at Rugby Park today raised the excitement levels and suggested the All Blacks captain, currently on sabbatical, might be in line for a shock return against the Sydneysiders at AMI Stadium.

Not so, coach Todd Blackadder later assured the assembled media. The reality is Blackadder wants to give McCaw as much space as possible; hoping while doing so that the 32-year-old veteran of 116 tests and 120 Super Rugby matches will get the urge to return to the Crusaders after the June tests against France.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen would prefer McCaw to get in shape for the Rugby Championship, which starts in August, by playing club rugby for Christchurch.

The Crusaders will be privately hoping their skipper will be keen to pull on a red and black strip of a different sort in July after watching Sam Cane wearing his black No7 jersey.

Blackadder alluded to that when speaking to Radio Sport this morning. "I reckon there's an itch that'll need to be scratched," he said. "Some big things are about to happen shortly and he's back training, he's getting really excited and rejuvenated to get back and play so I don't think he'll be too far away."

The Crusaders must beat the Waratahs to keep their finals ambitions alive and it looms as an intriguing clash. It will be the first time Daryl Gibson, the former Crusaders assistant coach now with the Waratahs, has come up against his old team and his inside information on a backline he is very familiar with could be useful.

Although Christchurch, like the rest of the country, has endured a cold snap recently, the weather conditions are forecast to be good. There is unlikely to be a repeat of the miserable, wet, night which did for the Blues a fortnight ago. Instead, new Wallabies player Israel Folau, a revelation since his switch from AFL and league, is likely to have a firm ground upon which to work his magic.

Blackadder welcomes back hooker Corey Flynn from a hamstring strain, but not All Blacks prop Owen Franks, who has a similar complaint.

He has also chosen to drop halfback Andy Ellis to the reserves bench in favour of Willi Heinz, with Dominic Bird named in the second row in place of Sam Whitelock, who has a broken finger. Reserve flanker/lock Jimmy Tupou will make his Super Rugby debut if he takes the field.

The Crusaders, clinging on to the last play-off spot in sixth, need a victory after failing to pick up a competition point when losing to conference rivals the Chiefs in Hamilton last weekend.

Crusaders team to play the Waratahs at AMI Stadium tomorrow (Friday), kick off 7.35pm is: Israel Dagg, Tom Marshall, Ryan Crotty, Tom Taylor, Dan Carter, Willi Heinz, Kieran Read (c), Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Luke Romano, Nepo Laulala, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Joe Moody, Jimmy Tupou, Luke Whitelock, Andy Ellis, Robbie Fruean, Adam Whitelock.

Waratahs: Israel Folau, Cam Crawford, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne, Peter Betham, Bernard Foley, Brendan McKibbin, Dave Dennis, Michael Hooper, Pat McCutcheon, Kane Douglas, Sitaleki Timani, Sekope Kepu, John Ulugia, Benn Robinson. Reserves: Luke Holmes, Paddy Ryan, Will Skelton, Jed Holloway, Matt Lucas, Berrick Barnes, Drew Mitchell.

- APNZ

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