Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: McCaw's sore neck cuts runs before test

Class loosie considered unlikely to play for his Christchurch club this weekend.

Richie McCaw will get limited game time ahead of the first test against Australia. Photo / Getty Images
Richie McCaw will get limited game time ahead of the first test against Australia. Photo / Getty Images

A sore neck is likely to sideline Richie McCaw until the All Blacks' warm-up match in Lower Hutt on August 9, a fixture which could be his last before the first Rugby Championship test against Australia.

While McCaw will be involved in the All Blacks training camp at North Harbour on Wednesday and Thursday - a group which will involve all players from the national team apart from those in the Chiefs - he is considered unlikely to play for his Christchurch club this weekend, the last of the Canterbury metro competition, due to the knocks he picked up in the 10 or so minutes of game time off the reserves bench at Waikato Stadium on Saturday.

It means time is running out on his race for fitness for the first test against Ewen McKenzie's Wallabies in Sydney on August 17 and also suggests Todd Blackadder was right to treat his return from a lengthy sabbatical conservatively. The ruthless nature of the 20-19 semifinal defeat to the Chiefs in Hamilton was a swift reminder of the realities of the game at the top level for McCaw.

Sam Cane is the incumbent No 7 in McCaw's absence, but he too has had a limited recent diet of rugby. He had the briefest of cameos for Tanerau Latimer in Hamilton and was on the reserves bench behind Latimer a fortnight earlier against the Blues at Eden Park.

Steve Hansen said he would have been comfortable for McCaw to have gone into the Rugby Championship with a build-up of club rugby. Instead, McCaw has played an 80-minute match for Christchurch and about 25 minutes for the Crusaders - both off the bench. His last match before what will be a highly anticipated clash at ANZ Stadium is likely to be a warm-up fixture for the All Blacks against a Wellington XV and Canterbury XV at the Hutt Recreation Ground.

Blackadder, asked at Waikato Stadium whether he thought about bringing McCaw on earlier, replied: "It was crossing our minds to bring some impact. Our bench added a fair bit of impact, but I thought Matt Todd was tracking pretty well. He was in all the right places and he was doing the job. But it was my decision [to not bring on McCaw] and I think I got it right."

The McCaw return was just one of several difficult decisions Blackadder has had to make concerning his All Blacks this season. Another was the dropping of fullback Israel Dagg.

And he is likely to be in a position to make several more at the Crusaders over the next two years. It is understood that Blackadder has agreed to stay on until 2015, by which time he could look for a different challenge.

He will spend this week in debrief meetings with his players knowing that once again his team would have had a very good chance of claiming their first title since 2008 if they had beaten the Chiefs in Hamilton. A victory at the same stage last year would have led to a final in Christchurch against the Sharks. A win on Saturday would have put them into a final against the Brumbies in Canberra, a repeat of their round-robin clash in which they were comprehensive victors.

Blackadder would have at least been heartened that his team had reached the semifinal with momentum behind them, a change to recent years. In Blackadder's five seasons at the helm the Crusaders have been beaten semifinalists four times and beaten finalists once, their loss to the Reds in Brisbane in 2011 the closest they have come to adding to their seven titles.

- APNZ

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