Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder says his legendary openside flanker Richie McCaw faces a great challenge against NSW Waratahs counterpart Michael Hooper in Saturday’s high-stakes Super Rugby match.
Seven-time Super champions the Crusaders enter the round in ninth spot, five points behind the Waratahs, who occupy the sixth and last finals position.
The 135-cap All Black McCaw will make his first start since he was knocked out in the Crusaders’ 29-15 Anzac Day win over the Blues.
The inclusion of 34-year-old McCaw is one of five changes, four of them to the pack, from the team that swamped the Reds prior to the Crusaders’ bye last week.
NSW named an unchanged run-on side with flanker Jacques Potgieter missing a second straight game with a sternum injury.
McCaw comes into the Crusaders side in place of Matt Todd, with Blackadder not ruling out the possibility of them tag-teaming Hooper at some stage of Saturday’s ANZ Stadium encounter.
“I think it’s a real boost (to get Richie back), we’re fortunate we’ve got two world class (openside flankers) in our team,” Blackadder told AAP on Thursday.
“We just felt for this week by starting Richie, it’s a great challenge for him against Michael Hooper, and Matt Todd is going to come on at some stage.”
Blackadder has recalled prop Owen Franks and hooker Ben Funnell to the front row, where they will play alongside Wyatt Crockett, who will set a Crusaders record of 152 caps.
All Black lock Luke Romano returns to the run-on team along with halfback Mitchell Drummond, while New Zealand Test fullback Israel Dagg will come off the bench in his first game since suffering a calf strain on April 11.
Blackadder has continued to persevere with his strategy of playing Colin Slade at five-eighth and a more celebrated All Blacks pivot, Dan Carter, at inside centre.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries in the midfield, so we really pick the team based on what our needs are,” Blackadder said.
“We’ve got a pretty good fullback in Israel Dagg, who is returning to the bench this week and we’ve got DC at 12 and Colin Slade at 10. “We just thought we’d settle on those combinations early.”
Blackadder isn’t dwelling on the possibility the Crusaders could miss out on the Super Rugby finals for the first time since 2001.
“If you look too far ahead you get caught up in the what ifs and all that sort of stuff,” Blackadder said.
“But if you just keep winning hopefully things will take care of themselves. That’s where our mindset is.”