Blackadder: No guarantee McCaw starts at No 7

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:03 29/01/2014
Richie McCaw
IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
TALKING TACTICS: Richie McCaw in discussion with Crusaders halfbacks Willi Heinz (left) and Andy Ellis at Rugby Park yesterday.

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Matt Todd's fast recovery from a serious chest injury could impact on Richie McCaw's desire to own the Crusaders' No 7 jersey.

With Todd initially not expected to be available until around late March McCaw was tipped to be an automatic starter at openside flanker for the Crusaders' opener, against the Chiefs on February 21.

But Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has revealed Todd has made such a quick recovery from the pectoral muscle he tore last September that he could start in the first pre-season game against the Highlanders in Motueka on February 7.

Todd is now a real chance to play the defending Super Rugby champions in Christchurch.

This means Blackadder must consider whether he should switch McCaw, one of New Zealand's greatest players who has amassed 124 test caps, to No 6 to accommodate a player who has made just two test appearances.

Yesterday McCaw, who last season made only two brief appearances as a replacement and hasn't started at openside flanker for the Crusaders since July 2012, made it clear what position he preferred.

"Probably 7," McCaw, 33, said when asked where he wanted to start.

"But with Matt Todd coming back with injury ... Hopefully I will be playing 7 but if there other reasons to play elsewhere then I will do that."

In the past, when there had been debate about whether McCaw should be shifted to another loose forward position, All Blacks Steve Hansen cut the discussions short by stating McCaw's best spot is at openside.

It seems logical that Hansen would prefer McCaw to operate at No 7 for the Crusaders ahead of the June series against England.

"To be honest that is my best position," McCaw said. "If I can play there, that is where I intend to play. And I think Toddy realises that. But if someone is injured and there is a need [to change] then Matt goes pretty well there too."

McCaw only returned to training on Monday but Blackadder, who is desperate to make a fast start this season, expects him to be available for the Chiefs match.

Injuries and an extended summer breaks mean McCaw hasn't been sighted in a season opener since 2009.

Blackadder maintained he was keeping an open mind about his back row selections.

"I will look at all options. I see Richie has being a 6 as well."

One thing is certain, if all his loosies are fit and available there is no shortage of options.

Todd, a regular starter at No 7 for the past three seasons (in 2011 and 2012 he played at openside flanker 34 times while McCaw, mainly because of a foot injury, appeared there on just 8 occasions) may prove a sentimental selection favourite for Blackadder.

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This could force the coach to switch McCaw to blindside flanker ahead of George Whitelock. Captain Kieran Read will be the preferred No 8, with Luke Whitelock the leading option to provide relief for this position off the bench.

Blackadder also didn't rule out playing his flankers in a left-right role, a tactic often employed by South African sides,

"I'm open to that option. Matt Todd was one of our better performers last year. I don't want guys sitting on the bench who should be out there starting. For these guys it's about their performances on the track."

- Fairfax Media

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