Old dogs Carter, McCaw are still vital to cause
New Zealand exhales. Turns out rumours of the decline of Richie McCaw and Daniel Carter have been greatly exaggerated.
McCaw and Carter both produced timely high-quality performances in Christchurch tonight as the Crusaders won through to their 11th - yes, 11th - Super Rugby final with a 38-6 dismantling of the Sharks. The Red 'n Blacks are now 80 minutes away from their eighth championship - but notably a first since 2008.
On a night when Kieran Read illuminated the big occasion with a stellar demonstration of his remarkable quality, and Fijian find of the year Nemani Nadolo was equally as destructive, the old soldiers McCaw and Carter were not a million miles off the standard set by the best player in the world.
With Read, this sort of stuff is as predictable as it is enjoyable. He is a colossus of the game completely at the peak of his powers. His every minute on the field these days is to be savoured.
Though, it must be said, after the troubles he's had with head knocks this year, and the subsequent impact that's had on his rhythm and confidence, it was reassuring - to no-one more than national coach Steve Hansen - to see the great No 8 thundering around wreaking havoc all over that Addington stadium.
In case you hadn't heard, there's a Bledisloe just three weeks away, and the sight of the supreme All Black powering back to his very best form would have cheered Hansen indeed.
But possibly even more heartening than the sight of Read back playing like a magnificent mix of Zinny Brooke and Buck Shelford, was confirmation that McCaw and Carter are also more than ready for the looming Rugby Championship. Both playing out of position, too.
And, really, there is a heck of a lot more doubt about the veteran duo - the most influential All Blacks of the last decade - than there is about Read who is in the prime of his rugby life. Their age, and their increasingly fallible bodies, assuredly dictates that.
There are some, even, who doubt their capabilities of being the players they need to be in a year's time when they bid to become the first All Blacks to win the World Cup on foreign soil.
But on the evidence of this their powers have declined only marginally. McCaw has had a stop-start season, but that big engine of his is now powering him perfectly. He may not have the brilliance of days of yore, but he remains a powerful influence with his strength, speed of thought and excellent decision-making.
He was all over the first half as the Crusaders took a grip on the semi; and kept going right until the end as the Sharks were dismantled. The move to No 6 was one he handled with aplomb.
And what about Carter? He's been a spectator pre-June as he completed a sabbatical designed to revive his flagging body, more than any sort of jaded mind. He, too, has been asked to play a spot out from his preferred one, and how he's built beautifully to form in such a short period.
When Carter takes on the line like this, you know his confidence is high. Throw in his tactical brilliance, sharp left boot and undimmed courage on defence and you have a fellow ready to step back in and run the All Black show.
Credit, too, to Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder. He's recognised he needs his great men back, but he has compromised by allowing their in-form stand-ins to remain as well. Matt Todd and Colin Slade remain key cogs in this red and black machine.
Carter at 12 and McCaw at 6? You can be sure Hansen enjoyed that as much as he did an emphatic return to their clinical best by his old side.