McCaw back for focussed 'Saders?

Sun, 14 Jul 2013 08:25
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The possible return of All Black captain Richie McCaw for the Crusaders' Super Rugby play-off campaign has become the most heated topic of debate.

The possible return of All Black captain Richie McCaw for the Crusaders' Super Rugby play-off campaign has become the most heated topic of debate.

McCaw ended a seven-month break from the game in a humble amateur match at the weekend, before declaring himself ready to return to the professional fray.

A game for enthusiastic weekend warriors that would normally attract a few hundred hardy spectators instead drew thousands as word spread that one of New Zealand's highest-paid professional sportsmen would take part.

McCaw, a 116-Test veteran and three-time world player of the year, has been on a sabbatical since the All Blacks lost to England 21-38 on the finely-manicured turf at Twickenham last December.

He returned to play on a muddy suburban paddock in the main South Island city of Christchurch where his Christchurch club side beat University 22-5.

After playing the full 80 minutes, McCaw said he felt ready to rejoin the Crusaders at Super Rugby level next week ahead of the four-nation Southern Hemisphere Rugby Championship Test series which starts next month.

"It would be nice to be involved with the Crusaders, but that's a discussion I have to have," he said of returning to the pitch for the Super Rugby play-offs - which will see the Crusaders host the Reds in the preliminary series (quarterfinals) in Christchurch on Saturday.

"If that turns out to be the case, playing next week, I don't see that being a a problem. I'm sure it will be fine," he said.

McCaw looked rusty at first, dropping the ball the first time it went his way, and confessed he had "heavy legs" for the last quarter of the game.

But overall he produced a solid performance which impressed his Crusaders Super Rugby coach Todd Blackadder who was on the sideline.

A decision on McCaw's involvement in the Super Rugby play-offs will be made early in the week, coach Todd Blackadder said.

"The team is extremely focused and have shown in recent games that if we do our homework and stick to our game plan we are a force to be reckoned with," Blackadder said.

"It's going to be an intense, physical and passionate game of footy between two great sides and I know we have what it takes to come away with a win."

Blackadder said home ground advantage in their Super Rugby qualifier against the Reds "makes all the difference".

"We are now at the business end of the competition and playing knock out rugby," he said.

"Having a home ground advantage makes all the difference at this stage of the competition.

"I know the Crusader fans will be right behind the team on Saturday and will show the Reds what it is like to play at our fortress.

"This weekend's game is likely to be the final home game of this season, so Crusader fans brandish your swords and come out in support of the team this coming weekend.

"There is nothing like playing in front of a home crowd and I know the boys get a huge lift when they hear the roar of the home crowd," Blackadder added.

The Crusaders remain undefeated in Christchurch this season.

While the two sides have yet to meet this season, they have met previously on nineteen occasions with the Crusaders coming out victors winning 68 percent of the battles.

The Crusaders have made the semifinals and finals on fourteen occasions since Super Rugby went professional in 1996.

The Reds in comparison have only made the latter rounds of the competition on four occasions.

One of which was the 2011 Final, where the Reds pipped the Crusaders at the final hurdle to win the 2011 championship.

With eleven victories under their belt this season and having won their last four games the Crusaders have plenty of momentum going into the Super Rugby qualifiers.

The Reds, meanwhile, have only played one game since the June 1 - due to the international Test window which saw the Lions tour Australia.

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