Blues coach Leon MacDonald has revealed that All Blacks legend Dan Carter had a reasonable chance of finally earning his first Blues cap in this weekend's cancelled clash with the Crusaders at Eden Park.
Auckland's reversion to a COVID-inforced lockdown forced the cancellation of Sunday's game between Super Rugby Aotearoa's competition leaders, and potentially the end of Carters career.
There was always a risk that Carter, who was signed as injury cover for utility back Stephen Perofeta, was never going to take the field for his new side given the presence of Beauden Barrett, Otere Black and even Jack Heighton in the squad.
Although MacDonald didn't outright state that Carter was set to run out in blue, he indicated that the experienced first five was certainly ready and willing to play.
"The fans would have loved to have seen him play in New Zealand again," MacDonald said. "He looked really good but he also offered a lot to us off the park. He was fit and ready to go and a good shot at being there on Sunday."
Carter has spent the last four years plying his trade in France and Japan, most recently turning out for Wayne Smith's Kobelco Steelers in the Top League. The former Crusader's time with the team came to an end earlier this year, however, and Chief Aaron Cruden has taken his spot in the roster.
That leaves a question mark over where Carter will be playing his rugby next year – if he plays professionally at all. MacDonald confirmed that there had been no serious discussions about signing the pivot for next season but talks may develop once lockdown ends.
Despite not making an impact on the field for the Blues this year, Carter's presence and experience have still rubbed off on his teammates, including captain Patrick Tuipulotu.
"He was Patrick's right-hand man for most of the season and we've all seen him grow as a leader and a player, and Dan is a massive part of that," MacDonald said.
"We know he is a Crusaders man at heart, but to put that aside and join the team is a testament to what a great guy he is."
When the Blues scored their first win over the Chiefs in Hamilton last month, for the first time since 2011, wing Caleb Clarke indicated that Carter played a large role in helping the young Blues side get the monkey off their backs.
"I know that Dan Carter, in our last training together as a whole squad, he mentioned how our team can do something that no other Blues team has done in a while and I think that meant a lot to everyone," Clarke told RugbyPass. "And, you know, it's Dan Carter – when he speaks, you just want to listen to him."