Patrick McKendry of APNZ lists five reasons why Richie McCaw is more valuable than ever to the Crusaders ahead of Friday's semifinal against the Chiefs.
1. He can play No.8
And how. The injured Kieran Read's absence from Friday night's semifinal against the Chiefs is a big blow to the Crusaders, but it has been softened by McCaw's form in the relatively unfamiliar position. He played his best game in a No8 jersey in the qualifier victory over the Bulls in Christchurch last weekend and has taken his ball carrying to a new level. At times he seemed to be playing both openside flanker and No8, such was his dominance at the breakdown and in the tackle. The big Bulls' forwards were knocked back time and again by the Crusaders.
That defensive effort was led by the skipper.
2. Finals experience
If the younger Crusaders need to look to someone for reassurance as they walk down the Waikato Stadium tunnel, there would be few better to turn to than McCaw. He has won four Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders after making his debut in 2001. He has also been on the wrong end of three grand final losses and three semifinal defeats. One of the hardest of those reverses to stomach was last year's at Suncorp Stadium against the Reds after the Crusaders had demolished the Stormers in a semifinal in Cape Town. Unfortunately for them the Brisbane final
was a plane trip too far.
There is a harder edge to McCaw these days. He admits that the All Blacks' 2007 World Cup quarter-final defeat against France made him a better, more demanding, captain, and the results were plain to see four years later in Auckland against the same opposition. Last year's loss to the Reds could be his watershed moment with the Crusaders. He feels he is due another title after consecutive semifinal losses to the Bulls in 2009 (in Pretoria) and 2010 (in Soweto) and last year's disappointment. One of the first things he told his teammates in the AMI Stadium changing room last week after the Bulls' victory was that if they kept doing the little things right, this year's title was within their grasp.
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4. Referee rapport
Being able to influence referees is part of the modern game and every team strives to do it. McCaw does it better than most. Apart from being All Blacks captain and one of the best players in the world, he is widely regarded as being a nice bloke and that all adds up to an advantage. Straight away he has the respect and attention of the man in the middle which can count in close calls, especially when he is the one potentially at fault when up to his tricks at the breakdown.
5. Intimidation factor
Sam Cane, the man who will eventually take over McCaw's All Blacks' No7 jersey, said he learned a great deal when up against him in the Crusaders' round-robin victory in Hamilton a few weeks ago. Cane said McCaw was a pro at running blocking lines and using other ploys learned during his 106 test caps (he is the most-capped All Black ever) and more than 100 appearances for the Crusaders. That, and the fact that McCaw, 31, appears to have bulked up this season and is hitting harder than ever, combined with his confrontational defence, means the opposition know they are in for a fight when he is around.