Richie McCaw has proven time and again that he can find form straight after an injury break and Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder will hope to see those qualities against the Brumbies tomorrow after skipper Kieran Read was ruled out yesterday with concussion.
It is understood Read was close to a return after holidaying with his family over the weekend during the Crusaders' bye. In the end, however, doctor Deb Robinson ruled him out of the match against the Brumbies in Christchurch, having decided the No8 hadn't recovered from the knock suffered against the Chiefs a fortnight ago.
The stage is set for another inspirational performance from All Black captain McCaw, who will wear the unfamiliar No6 jersey against the Brumbies, Blackadder deciding to stick with the consistent Matt Todd at openside flanker.
With Todd concentrating on the breakdown, the onus will be on McCaw to carry the ball strongly against the high-flying Brumbies, second overall and on a roll after demolishing the Chiefs in Canberra last weekend.
McCaw, who confirmed he would be playing a traditional blindside flanker's role, spoke yesterday of his joy at being back. His broken thumb, suffered in the round two defeat by the Blues in February, has kept him out of six matches. With Read ruled out and the Crusaders desperate to continue a momentum which has seen them win their last three matches, all on the road, McCaw's return is timely.
"It's like another pre-season really, I guess that's one silver lining. I've been able to do a lot in that regard, but nothing equates to playing," McCaw said.
Asked about the momentum the Crusaders had built after their three early defeats, including two at home, McCaw said: "It was a good gutsy win against the Chiefs the last time out but we still can't say we played an 80 minutes where we were 100 per cent happy, but that's the nature of things."
The Crusaders have become used to playing without McCaw. His sabbatical last year meant he was available only after the June test break and when he returned, his role could be described as bit-part, at best. In two substitute appearances he clocked a total of only 28 minutes.
It is understood that as a result he is extremely keen to make his presence felt for the rest of the campaign. He wouldn't elaborate on it yesterday but has had a frustrating time on the sidelines.
Blackadder has elected to go for Luke Whitelock at No8, rather than the more explosive Jordan Taufua, who had a strong match against the Chiefs. However, Whitelock played well when replacing Read at Waikato Stadium and is probably a steadier option at the back of the scrum. For the second match running, his brother, George, is not required in the match-day squad.
Another interesting decision from Blackadder was his selection of midfielder Ryan Crotty as captain, rather than McCaw, who has been named as vice-captain.
Crotty has been a standout performer for the Crusaders this season. He captained the team to victory over the Lions in Johannesburg and appears to thrive on the extra duties.
In easing the load on McCaw, he is giving the 33-year-old carte blanche to wreck his unique brand of mayhem on what is a very structured Brumbies team. Another victory and the Crusaders, fourth in the New Zealand conference but only four points behind the Hurricanes, really will be going places.