The pulling power of Japanese rugby will be felt again with Daniel Carter likely to become the next star All Black to sign up for a short stint in the land of the rising sun.
Carter is understood to have rejected the advances of French giants Toulon and Racing Metro who were desperate to sign him for six months next year and he has made it clear that if he takes a sabbatical, it will be in Japan.
The Herald on Sunday understands that Carter is exploring the possibility of playing in Japan after the All Blacks end-of-season tour. New Zealand will play only three tests in November, leaving Carter a window to enjoy a season in the Japanese Top League from November to February.
The star first-five hasn't made any decisions yet on whether he will invoke his sabbatical clause, but it is believed that if he does, his preference will be to play off-shore rather than follow Richie McCaw's lead and take time away from all rugby. Carter is a touch and confidence player and tends to be at his best when he plays for sustained periods.
Because his first sabbatical to Perpignan in 2009 was cut short by injury, numerous French clubs had hoped Carter would feel he had unfinished business there and that he could be lured back for a second stint in the first six months of next year.
Only Toulon and Racing Metro were actually able to raise the sort of money required to tempt the world's best player but the latter's owner, Jacky Lorenzetti, has confirmed that he's given up.
"[The Dan Carter deal] is a disappointment," Lorenzetti told French media. "I met him a number of times. He was keen and the financial conditions were in place. He would have complemented our current squad very well.
"It didn't happen because he got injured at the World Cup. He is frustrated to not have played [in the knockout stages] and is desperate to feature in the 2015 edition. To do that he has to play in New Zealand.
"I think Carter will perhaps do a short stint in Japan, they're very generous patrons of world rugby. He won't come to Europe."
Carter has achieved an incredible amount since he first played for the Crusaders in 2003. He has won three Super Rugby titles, collected almost 100 test caps, never lost the Bledisloe and played at three World Cups. While he does have a World Cup winner's medal, he collected it on crutches having missed the play-offs due to serious injury. His 2007 tournament was a bigger personal disaster as he limped off in the quarter-final defeat to France and in 2003 he was not a first choice selection.
His overriding goal is to finish his career as the undisputed star of the 2015 tournament. The idea of playing a central role in helping the All Blacks defend their title has him hooked. Almost every other box has been ticked in his glittering career except this one - it is anomalous that a player of Carter's class has not been the dominant force at a World Cup. Jonny Wilkinson was the hero of 2003, Bryan Habana in 2007 and a combination of McCaw, Jerome Kaino and Stephen Donald in 2011.
If Carter does commit to a playing sabbatical, it will be with a view to helping him towards his bigger goal. While he has talked about France being a spiritual home, the prospect of six months bruising rugby didn't appeal. He is 31 next month and there were serious questions about whether his body would cope with the attritional Top 14 in France.
A short stint in Japan, though, where the game is fast and not particularly physical, could actually sharpen his running game. The Japanese clubs inflict a heavy aerobic workload on their players and Carter may benefit from such emphasis combined with the chance to mentally escape New Zealand. He'd could go straight back into the Crusaders' 2014 campaign or taking a break before resuming in time to secure his All Black place for the June tests.
Several Japanese clubs are likely to be able to offer in excess of $1 million to sign Carter.
Stars in their eyes
Six of the World Cup champion All Blacks have played in Japan since 2011.
• Brad Thorn: Joined the Fukuoka Sanix Blues in October 2011 and played two seasons for them before agreeing to join the Highlanders.
• Mils Muliaina: Signed with the NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes in April 2011 and joined them after the World Cup. Was chased hard by the Blues and Chiefs to return for this campaign but was unable to gain an early release from his contract.
• Ma'a Nonu: Was granted a sabbatical by the NZRU after the World Cup and took it in Japan, playing for the Ricoh Black Rams.
• Jerome Kaino: Was in heavy global demand after the World Cup but turned down Toulouse and the NZRU to sign a two-year deal with Toyota, who are reportedly paying him $1.1 million a season.
• Sonny Bill Williams: Was offered $1.5 million to play one year with the Panasonic Wild Knights. It was money he couldn't refuse.
• Richard Kahui: Announced on Wednesday that he will be joining Toshiba on a two-year deal after Super Rugby.
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