Highlanders first-five Colin Slade is set to make a dramatic return to the Crusaders next season as a replacement for Dan Carter.
Slade has played the last three seasons for the Highlanders after leaving the Crusaders frustrated by the lack of game time in his favoured No10 jersey. Carter's sabbatical next year, during which he will follow Richie McCaw's lead and have a break away from Super Rugby, offers Slade an opportunity to reassert his challenge for an All Blacks spot in a more successful environment. The Crusaders sit fourth on the Super Rugby table with a home match against the Hurricanes to come.
Although he played a starring role in the Highlanders' recent 49-44 victory over the Hurricanes in Wellington, it was only the third victory for Jamie Joseph's men this season, and while it lifted them off the bottom of the table, they are still a chance for the wooden spoon.
Slade, Carter's back-up at the 2011 World Cup before being cut down by a groin injury eerily similar to his teammate's, has watched Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett develop into quality first-fives at the Chiefs and Hurricanes respectively.
At 25, Slade, who has played 10 tests, knows time is running out on his dream of breaking back into the All Blacks.
Slade has had a horror run of injuries over the past few years, including two broken jaws and a serious ankle problem to go with his groin issues. He showed at the Cake Tin that he is nearing his best again, displaying skill and also a fair amount of durability when collecting a knee to his problem jaw when fielding a high kick.
Todd Blackadder said it was too early to say whether Slade was on his radar, however, it is understood that the Crusaders coaches have been impressed with Slade's improved maturity since his shift to Dunedin. The Crusaders also have Tyler Bleyendaal and Tom Taylor as first-five options, but with Robbie Fruean's recent heart operation ruling him out, Taylor is likely to be used at second-five next season. The Crusaders are understood to be still chasing another midfielder - they were eyeing up Hurricane Alapati Leiua, but it is understood the big wing
has decided to stay in Wellington.
Slade, who plays for Canterbury in the ITM Cup, will be an option to cover fullback for the Crusaders, but it will be the promise of an extended period in the No10 jersey which will tempt him north.
Slade's imminent exit represents another blow for Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph. Joseph has already lost Tamati Ellison and Hosea Gear to Japan and Jamie Mackintosh to the Chiefs.
Carter had offers from Japan and France but it is understood that his decision was based solely on what would best extend his career until the next World Cup in England and Wales in 2015 - and that was complete rest. Carter, who became the first player to score more than 1500 points in Super Rugby during his team's 43-15 win over the Chiefs in Christchurch last weekend, is likely to play his last season for the Crusaders in 2015 as a build-up for his fourth and final global tournament.
McCaw, meanwhile, is set to make his long-anticipated return to the field for his Christchurch club this weekend. McCaw last played for Christchuch in 2009 when returning from a knee injury, an event which attracted a crowd of several thousand for a match against Lincoln University.