Richie McCaw looks every bit like a man ready to hit the Super Rugby season at full tilt after helping the Crusaders to a 40-15 pre-season win over the Hurricanes in Levin.
The All Blacks captain made an immediate and significant impact after coming on at halftime for blindside George Whitelock with his side behind 15-14 on the scoreboard. McCaw stole a lineout, charged the ball up several times and ripped into the rucks and looked like he enjoyed every minute.
It suggests a McCaw-Matt Todd loose forward combination could be used during Crusaders Super Rugby season opener against the Chiefs next weekend.
Coach Todd Blackadder was clearly pleased to see his skipper in such fine fettle, but wasn't giving much away in the selection stakes.
"I thought he [McCaw] had an exceptional 40. So did Matt Todd and George, but if you look at Richie I thought he played a really smart game. He didn't try to do too much, he just worked into the game and looked like he enjoyed himself.
"We'll have a selection meeting before we decide [if and where he'll play]. We have to review this and make sure we get it right."
Blackadder got things right in the season dress rehearsal, but not until he injected McCaw, lock Sam Whitelock and halfback Andy Ellis after a lack lustre first half.
"It was a disappointing start to the game. We didn't respect the ball enough, we turned the all over a lot and our line speed we didn't get any physicality or get off our heels," he said. "We addressed a couple of things at halftime and the guys really responded. These games aren't easy and the Hurricanes played very well early. We probably got sat on our arses at the start and had to work our way back."
Aside from the three senior men, the other player to make his mark was No 8 Jordan Taufua, who scored two second half tries and was generally a handful for the Hurricanes defence every time he touched the ball.
Wing Johnny McNicholl scored a seemingly effortless hattrick with a simple intercept, a finish in the corner and another soft try off a Hurricanes mistake.
"It was our last trial and we have some real selection head aches. Some guys played really well and others were slightly off the pace," Blackadder said. "He [Taufua] had a massive impact didn't he. He put his hand up and got involved. All of the second group did to be fair.
"The first group got put under a lot of pressure and absorbed a lot and the second half guys brought a bit more energy."
Blackadder would have cringed at the sight of his first choice tight five being shunted off their own feed in the first half.
But he was thrilled with a defensive lineout that ruined the Hurricanes set piece in the second half.
"It's an area Dave Hewett coaches and we work hard at. The hard work paid off. The guys committed to it and set piece pressure in this game is so vital.
"There were a couple of momentum shifts there where our guys turned those lineouts over. We got on the front foot and that's the difference in these matches."
The Crusaders only injury concern from the match was first five eighth Colin Slade, who departed shortly before halftime and was limping badly on a heavily wrapped calf after the match.
"He's got more of a calf knock. It's a bruise more than anything, but its nothing too serious. Other than that we're pretty well unscathed," Blackadder said.
Crusaders 40 (Johnny McNicholl 3, Jordan Taufua 2, Willi Heinz tries, Tom Taylor 2 cons, Tyler Bleyendaal 3 cons) Hurricanes 15 (Beauden Barrett, Marty Banks, Ben Franks tries). HT: 14-15.
- Fairfax Media
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