Super Rugby Qualifier - Crusaders v Reds
Richie McCaw expected back via bench
July 15, 2013
Richie McCaw returns to action following his sabbatical, Christchurch v University, Christchurch, July 13, 2013
Richie McCaw was involved for 80 minutes against University © Getty Images

Richie McCaw is likely to return to the Crusaders team via the bench for their Super Rugby qualifier against Queensland Reds at AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Saturday.

McCaw, who missed the Super Rugby home-and-away season while on an extended sabbatical, played his first match for seventh months when he turned out for Christchurch against University in a metro division one club game at Christchurch Park on Saturday. He played the full 80 minutes and Crusaders head coach Todd Blackadder, who watched him for the final half-hour, was pleased with the player's form.

"I was always interested in seeing his fitness level at the end of the game, and he looked pretty tired to me which was a good sign for the fact that he had given so much," Blackadder said at Crusaders training on Monday. "But the first game of footy after a long time is always going to be pretty tough and I thought he did really well."

Blackadder said the interests of the Crusaders team had to come before those of the All Blacks captain, especially as the incumbent loose-forward trio of No.8 Kieran Read and flankers George Whitelock and Matt Todd had performed outstandingly throughout the campaign. "You've got to weigh things up and make sure you do right by the team," he said.

Richie McCaw returned to a hero's welcome at Christchurch Park © Getty Images

"We've got a game we've got to win. Bringing a guy like Richie back into the team is fantastic and makes our selection even harder. There's also loyalty to the guys who have done the job. You can't underestimate the work they've put in to give us the opportunity. These decisions are never going to be easy."

Blackadder said that McCaw had proven throughout his long career that he was mentally tough, but he believed the All Blacks legend was not yet up to the physical level required for 80 minutes of a Super Rugby knockout match against the 2011 champions. "He got through the weekend all right and he's really keen to be involved, so that's encouraging, but it would be silly to compromise the team. He's a quality player, he's Richie McCaw, of course, but we've still got to put the team first."

Blackadder said the Crusaders would be told the decision on Tuesday, but the team would not be released until training on Thursday. McCaw is expected to replace Luke Whitelock on the bench.

Meanwhile, the medical reports were all good for the Crusaders. Tom Taylor, who suffered a head knock and was replaced in the 25-17 win over the Hurricanes last Friday, is recovering well, as is All Blacks lock Luke Romano after an ankle injury kept him out of the fixture. "[Taylor] was quite coherent after the game," Blackadder said. ". We don't think it was too serious and he seems back to normal . Luke was running on Saturday so it's all looking fairly positive, but he's got to get through a bit of running this afternoon."

The Crusaders rounded out their hone-and-away season with victory against the Hurricanes (video available only in Australia)
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