Crusaders' Richie McCaw is still 'touch and go'
Todd Blackadder does not want to compromise Richie McCaw's fractured rib.
Saturday night's 21-13 win over the Blues guarantees the Crusaders their 13th consecutive Super Rugby finals appearance, yet coach Blackadder's refusal to be satisfied with just making the top-six requires rational decisions at the selection table.
Finishing second overall would earn the Crusaders a home semifinal.
To make that happen they must beat the Highlanders at AMI Stadium next weekend. That could be critical if they are to keep the Sharks, who play the Stormers in Cape Town, at bay.
Last night, the Waratahs secured the minor premiership, beating the Highlanders 44-16 in Sydney.
Although Blackadder is hopeful lock Sam Whitelock, who withdrew from the Blues match at late notice because of a sore calf, will be available, he appears less optimistic about McCaw.
The All Blacks captain has not played since he carried his fractured rib into the third test against England on June 21. While McCaw has indicated to coaching staff he may be fit, Blackadder was cautious about taking a risk.
"He would be pretty touch and go.
"He has said he is feeling a hell of a lot better but we will get a better idea later in the week to see where that's at," Blackadder said.
McCaw's chances of meeting the Highlanders depends on whether he can complete contact trainings.
Blackadder's decision on whether to play McCaw requires him to look at the bigger picture: replacement No 7 Matt Todd has been one of his most loyal servants and the short-term gain of having McCaw on the park could result in him missing the playoffs.
"He's having a great season so far and I would be very reluctant to stick Matt [Todd] on the sideline, believe me," Blackadder said.
Concerns about first five-eighth Colin Slade's health after a tackle on Ma'a Nonu resulted in him being catapulted to the turf, appeared to be unfounded.
Despite Slade leaving the field soon after the incident, which allowed Dan Carter to move from second-five to pivot, Blackadder said the feedback from medical staff yesterday was positive.
This was despite Slade failing a concussion test in the previous game, against the Hurricanes.
"It's not concussion at all. He had a meeting with [team doctor] Deb Robinson and he's absolutely fine."
If Slade is passed fit to face the Highlanders, Blackadder may prefer to keep Carter at No 12 because the backline, boosted by power-packed wing Nemani Nadolo and reinvigorated fullback Israel Dagg, operated much more cohesively against the Blues.
All Black Dagg, who had not played since the first test against England on June 7, was not hampered by his patella tendon problem and subsequently the attack profited from his dangerous runs and booming punts.
Shifting Kieron Fonotia to the right wing also added some much-needed defensive resolve on his flank.
Fears the withdrawal of Whitelock would reduce their lineout percentages were allayed by Jimmy Tupou who made a significant contribution with his ball carrying and eagerness to shift torsos in the rucks.
Whitelock's tight calf was not risked because Blackadder feared he would tear the muscle.
Despite fine work by Dominic Bird and Jordan Taufua, Blackadder said there would be little sense in not starting Whitelock if he was fit.
"These games are must-wins and I would like everyone to be available so we can select our very best team."
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