Crusaders' Richie McCaw to start in semifinal

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 13:46 24/07/2014
BACK: All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw has been named to return from injury in the Crusaders starting lineup for their Super Rugby semifinal against the Sharks.
Martin Hunter/Getty Images
BACK: All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw has been named to return from injury in the Crusaders starting lineup for their Super Rugby semifinal against the Sharks.

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Any Crusaders players giving away needless penalties during Saturday night's Super Rugby semifinal risk receiving a death stare from Kieran Read.

Captain and No 8 Read said the Crusaders, who watched Frans Steyn kick four penalties and two conversions to help vanquish the Highlanders 31-27 during last Sunday morning's qualifying final in Durban, know they cannot afford to offer the visiting Sharks easy opportunities to kick for goal at AMI Stadium.

''We have spoken about that all week,'' Read said.

''They kick a lot of penalties and on the back of penalties they get field position with their lineout drives as well. I know it is going to be be a big test for us not to give them any free 'outs' there.

''We don't want to be giving away cheap penalties, really. We want to give nothing away to them because if we do he (Steyn) will just knock them over and keep the scoreboard ticking.''

Concussion ruled Read out of the most recent meeting between the two sides in Christchurch.

He would have been a frustrated observer as the Sharks, who were reduced to 14 men when Jean Deysel was sent off, created a boilover result by winning 30-25 at AMI Stadium on May 17.

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has been able to field a side bristling with stars for this re-match.

He has named Richie McCaw at blindside flanker, Dan Carter at second five-eighths and Israel Dagg at fullback after they missed the regular season match against the South Africans.

Halfback Andy Ellis, who was rotated to the bench to allow Willi Heinz to start in that earlier fixture, will also start.

Read doesn't expect the Sharks to vary their game plan for the semi, believing they will have taken heart from the way their scrum and driving mauls pulled the Highlanders apart.

''I'm certainly expecting them to keep to their strengths which is their scrum, their lineout maul and knocking over penalties. I don't think too much will change,'' Read added.

''Hopefully if we the conditions to suit us we will be able to play a bit of footy.''

The Crusaders, boosted by the return of Carter to their backline (following the June test window) and the power of wing Nemani Nadolo out wide, may back themselves to stress the Sharks defence by repeatedly shifting the ball wide and also trying to get Dagg involved in counter-attacks.

The Sharks' scrum was always expected to have the upper-hand against the Highlanders and it didn't disappoint at King's Park.

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Read, however, said the Crusaders set-piece will not be intimidated.

''It is their strength but it is our strength as well. We have an All Black tight five and those guys are doing a lot of work to try and get it right for this week.''

Blackadder has made just two changes to the run-on side that thumped the Highlanders 34-8 almost a fortnight ago.

McCaw, who makes his first start since fracturing ribs while captaining the All Blacks against England last month, replaces Jordan Taufua at blindside flanker and hooker Corey Flynn starts his 150th match ahead of Ben Funnell.

The balance of the side, and their ability to vary their strategies in the latter part of the campaign, have given the Read confidence to say the Crusaders can vary their attack and, subsequently, keep the Sharks' defenders guessing.

''I'm not sure it's an  advantage but it means we can play different styles depending on defence, the conditions and all that. We are hoping to play an up-tempo game where we can really use our back skills out wide but are more than happy to mix it up.

''And we will need to, especially early against the Sharks. You have to match them up front because that's where it all starts.''

Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Kieron Fonotia, Ryan Crotty, Dan Carter, Nemani Nadolo, Colin Slade, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (c), Matt Todd, Richie McCaw, Sam Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Joe Moody, Nepo Laulala, Jimmy Tupou, Jordan Taufua, Willi Heinz, Tom Taylor, Johnny McNicholl 

- Stuff

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