Wellington - Resting All Black captain Richie McCaw was confirmed Sunday to have returned to the side for the first Rugby Championship Test against Australia in August, but not necessarily as openside flank.
The 32-year-old sat out the just concluded 3-0 series win against France and all Super Rugby so far this year while on a sabbatical aimed at managing his workload through to the 2015 World Cup.
But he is now back in training and on track to return to playing in the near future, All Black coach Steve Hansen said.
"He's got seven weeks before the (Australia) Test," Hansen said. "He'll start to ramp it up. I'm sure he'll have a couple of club games. Depending on how the Crusaders go he may end up out there if they've got some injuries."
McCaw, the 2011 World Cup winning captain and three-times world player of the year, may not necessarily return in his favoured number seven slot as Hansen works on developing Sam Cane on the openside flank.
Cane filled McCaw's role throughout the French series and Hansen is keen to continue his progression while McCaw has shown he is more than capable of filling both blindside and backrow positions.
"It is a possibility," Hansen said. "I'm really comfortable about Richie. We've got to be flexible with our thinking. A lot of it will depend on his form. He gives us the ability to play all three loose-forward positions.
"If we're going to consider Sam Cane's growth, then he has to get out on the track. It's no good giving him these three Tests and then parking him up.
"It would be a lot different if he (McCaw) could only play seven, but we know he can play six and eight."
McCaw's return means at least two players from the 32-man squad assembled for the French series will be omitted when a new squad is named for the four-nation Rugby Championship which also includes South Africa and Argentina.