Moscow - All Blacks great Richie McCaw is "raring to go" after sitting out competitive rugby in a bid to prolong his professional career, according to New Zealand Rugby Union chief Steve Tew.
McCaw, the 2011 World Cup-winning captain and three-time world player of the year, sat out the just-concluded 3-0 series win against France and all Super 15 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 the 32-year-old was confirmed Sunday to have returned to the side for the first Rugby Championship Test against Australia in August -- but not necessarily as openside flanker.
Tew, speaking on the sidelines of the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow, said: "Richie's in good shape. He's come back from his break refreshed and raring to go."
Tew admitted that it had not been certain that McCaw would not turn his back on rugby.
"It could have gone one of two ways, he might have gone away and decided enough is enough.
"But he's come back and he wants to be in the All Blacks again."
Tew said that the NZRU had been happy to fund his break away from the game, as a show of support for loyal players at a time when clubs from Japan, France and England come calling.
"Richie's effectively had long-service leave and we've been happy to pay him during that period," he added.
"The end result for us is that he's better equipped to make a choice about whether he can carry on. If the choice goes our way, he'll see himself through to 2015 -- if he's good enough.
"We're in a very competitive market for our players.
We can't compete with the top dollars, so what we've really focused on is firstly having the best environment possible through competitions and coaching, and secondly we return loyalty to senior players at the back end of their careers.
"It's just a question of being flexible and treating each player on his merits."
McCaw now has seven weeks to get back up to scratch before the Australia Test.
"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," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said last week.
McCaw 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.