Blackadder not rushing McCaw back for semi
The Crusaders will face the Chiefs in the Super Rugby semi-final in Hamilton on Saturday night but Richie McCaw will not be in the starting side.
The Brumbies' ugly 15-13 victory over the Cheetahs in last night's qualifying final in Canberra saved the Crusaders from having to make the energy-sapping journey to Pretoria to face the Bulls.
Instead the Brumbies, who were fortunate Cheetahs goal kicker Riaan Smit's missed a conversion on fulltime and failed to push the match into extra time, will travel to South Africa for the other semi.
Playing at Waikato Stadium was undoubtedly the Crusaders preferred option; although they have lost their last two fixtures at the ground - including last year's semi - the resurgent Crusaders thrashed them 43-15 in their most recent encounter in Christchurch on July 5.
Despite the magnitude of this Saturday night's semi, coach Todd Blackadder is unrepentant about his decision to keep Richie McCaw on the bench, stating he will not be swayed in rushing him back prematurely.
Although there may be some criticism of his reluctance to utilise McCaw's leadership in the sudden-death match, Blackadder said it would be unfair to pitch the flanker straight into such an important match when he has only played 15 minutes of Super Rugby and a club game.
"That was never part of our thinking to start with,'' Blackadder said. "I say that because he's only just getting his game-time and minutes up and it would be a huge step to go into a game like this.
"Richie's an outstanding player but it just wouldn't be right. That's no disrespect to anyone but it is just the right thing to do.''
Maintaining the combination of Matt Todd, who McCaw replaced at AMI Stadium, with George Whitelock and Kieran Read will ensure the loose forward combination that has served the Crusaders well remains intact.
"Those guys have played outstandingly well and by doing that we are putting the team first,'' Blackadder added. "And if you were to ask Richie he would say exactly the same.''
Although the Crusaders belted the Chiefs when they last met, Blackadder scoffed at the notion their opponents would be caught napping.
"We lost to them that first time (a 28-19 defeat on May 24) because our preparation wasn't great and the disruption of the All Blacks camp. Then it happened in reverse - the Chiefs were underprepared.''
Blackadder should have no selection quandaries this week.
He will reward the players who started against the Reds and demand his forwards again match their aggression at the breakdowns after they successfully slowed possession and created precious turnovers on Saturday night.
"I would expect our intensity levels to increase. That was something we noticed with the Reds, they couldn't match our intensity.''
The second-half ploy of shifting George Whitelock to the second row when his youngest brother Luke came on at blindside flanker could again result in specialist lock Tom Donnelly being left out of the reserves.
Lock Luke Romano, who missed the previous round because of a high ankle sprain, suffered no ill-effects from that mishap a fortnight ago.
"There were only reports of bumps and bruises, so we are in pretty good shape,'' Blackadder said. "The semi won't change in our preparations this week. We have settled in our routines and it's about making sure we are mentally fresh - not getting anxious and trusting our systems.''