All Blacks captain Richie McCaw has sustained a stress fracture in his right foot and will miss up to six weeks of the Super 15 season. Scans have confirmed McCaw developed a stress fracture in his fifth metatarsal while doing a yo-yo fitness test last Monday.
The injury is a blow to the Crusaders, but such is the depth of their team; they will still be a very competitive team with George Whitelock and Matt Todd both very able replacements. They will likely use Todd on the open side, while Whitelock will make the shift over to the blindside as he did in 2010.
With 2011 being a World Cup year, there has been much talk over how the All Blacks will perform in September should McCaw be unavailable. Such is the dominance of the three time International Player of the Year, along with the fact that the All Blacks don't have a ready replacement; a blow to McCaw before a crucial World Cup game could see the All Blacks walk away without the Cup yet again.
If this was to happen, Daniel Braid would be the logical replacement. Braid is a very good scavenger and has a knack of effecting turnovers. In last year's Super 14 he was arguably the competition's top No. 7. However, he doesn't possess the same all around game McCaw does, who is an accomplished ball runner and leads his team from the front. Braid has also had limited experience at the top level, which would tell in a close game as World Cup games tend to be.
The good news for All Blacks fans is that the injury doesn't appear to be long term. McCaw himself said that it doesn't seem like an injury that is likely to linger, which from an All Black point of view is a good thing, and they can be counting their lucky stars that he has come down with the injury now rather than in eight months time.
How many wins will the Crusaders get in their first six games without McCaw?
The Crusaders had planned to rest McCaw for the first two games of the season to allow him to fully get over the effects of a long season in 2010, to ensure he is on top of his game at the business end of the season. If we take this into account, McCaw will only really miss four weeks, which will see the Crusaders take on the Waratahs, the Brumbies, the Highlanders and the Sharks without their inspirational captain. But with the strength of the current Crusaders team, it would be foolish to write them off in any of these games and will likely enter each one as favorites.
During McCaw's absence, last year's New Zealand Player of the Year, Kieran Read, will take over the captaincy. Read is a young, promising player who really stamped his authority on the game last year after a few very good seasons waiting in the wings. He is an excellent ball runner and also has a very good work rate, particularly on defense. He acted as All Blacks vice-captain last year and will be a very able replacement for McCaw.
The Crusaders kick off their Super 15 campaign on February 19 in Auckland as they take on the Blues. McCaw is scheduled to be back to take on defending champions, the Bulls, in Christchurch in April.