With or without Richie McCaw, the Hurricanes still consider the Crusaders to be Super Rugby’s benchmark.
McCaw has been ruled out of Saturday’s match against the Hurricanes at Westpac Stadium with concussion, the latest hiccup for a team that’s lurched its way through its opening ten matches with five wins and five losses.
Though McCaw reported fit and well on Tuesday, Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder had already made the call to spell his openside after he’d fronted at training on Monday still reporting headaches.
“He was a little bit blurry and felt a little bit off, so it’s best not to risk him. When he came in and didn’t feel quite a hundred [per cent] on Monday, we just ruled him out,” Blackadder said.
McCaw will continue concussion protocols and see how he feels next week. While most would consider the injury a blow, senior Hurricanes lock James Broadhurst said that thinking would be a mistake ahead of what’s traditionally been the biggest Super Rugby match-up of the year in Wellington.
“They will talk about the loss of Richie’s leadership obviously, but Matt Todd is a big leader for them as well. He’s captained the ITM Cup team and he’s been bloody unlucky that Richie has been there because he’s been so close behind,” Broadhurst said.
“I don’t think it [McCaw’s absence] will make a major difference. With Todd in there they’ve still got one of the benchmark loose forward trios in the country at the moment the way Reado [Kieran Read] and [Jordan] Taufua have been playing anyway.”
The Hurricanes’ ability to lift for the Crusaders has seen them win four of the last five matches between the teams, including home and away last year.
The Crusaders have not tasted success at Westpac Stadium since 2012 and Broadhurst put the results down to how highly the Hurricanes regard the Red and Blacks.
“There is still no doubt they are the benchmark. Their record speaks for itself. They haven’t missed the playoffs for how many number of years and we’ve struggled to get there.
“If you look at history nothing changes, they are still the Crusaders and we still see them as a serious threat regardless of where anyone sits on the table.
“They are stacked with All Blacks and the non-All Blacks are sharp as well. We’re under no illusions what we are up against this week.”
The Hurricanes’ self belief continues to grow in the wake of their 35-19 win over the Reds in Brisbane, their eighth win in nine matches.
Broadhurst, who has been with the franchise since 2010, and recently resigned through to 2017, puts the team’s improved consistency down to a collective ability to implement the coaching staff’s game plans.
“If you look back probably to 2012 in particular there were probably a few games where we would have won the game if we had the team we do now,” he said. “I think that’s just due to match experience and I think that’s what’s shining through this year.
“We have a pretty wide range of attack plans we can fall into and we worked really hard on that in the preseason.
“All it takes is a subtle tweak each week depending who you are coming up against and, again, that comes down to the work we did during the preseason and experience.”
Meanwhile, it seems McCaw is unlikely to be sidelined for long with Blackadder and team doctor Deb Robinson confident he would make a quick recovery.
“He just got his head on the wrong side and just got kneed in the temple. Even after the game he was really chipper and was fine, and even today, he was 100 per cent, but it’s just not worth risking him,” Blackadder said. “[But] All signs are pretty positive. Hopefully, he’s back for next week.”
Robinson said McCaw had not had a head injury for four years, and this was just “a discreet moment”.
“He put his head in a bad place and paid the price.”
If McCaw was feeling okay on Wednesday, he would “get on the bike” and “start his graduated return to play,” Robinson said.
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