Their supporters have been warned not to expect miracles from Dan Carter on his return but if any team needs his cool head and precision it is the Crusaders.

The Blues would dearly love him in their mix as their season implodes week by week but the Crusaders machine has a fair bit of rust in its system too and Carter is exactly what is required to turn things around.

An indication of how serious backs coach Daryl Gibson was treating last night's stuttering performance against the Cheetahs could be seen before halftime, with the score at 11-3, when he was locked in an animated discussion with his playmaker on the sideline.

Carter took the field straight after the break, replacing Ryan Crotty, who played with poise on his return.


It was the first time Carter, who slotted into first-five and pushed Tom Taylor out one, has stepped on to a field in a competition game since last year's Rugby World Cup, the September 24 pool match against France convincingly won by the All Blacks, to be exact.

His groin injury the following week and the subsequent emotional fallout is well documented. So too is his ability to marshal a team and deliver a perfect pass and that's exactly what he did only two minutes after his arrival, shifting it perfectly to Robbie Fruean for the centre to drift outside his man and score behind the posts.

It appeared the try might ignite the Crusaders but more errors let the Cheetahs back, although the try scored by Carter's opposite, Johan Goosen, was a beauty.

Carter was quickly pressed into action on defence, which he did in his usual no-fuss manner and, while his kicking from hand looked a little aimless and he didn't take any shots at goal, the most important thing for the Crusaders is his return.

He will be needed to spark a backline with plenty of talent on the wings and at the back in Zac Guildford, Sean Maitland and Israel Dagg - all out of form and lacking confidence.

Dagg still seems mentally troubled by his quariceps injury of last year, Guildford hesitates before going into contact and Maitland, although he opened his try-scoring account for the season in the first half, isn't anywhere near the player he was last year.

So, a disjointed effort from a team with high expectations but only a 2-2 record for the season and a trip to South Africa to come.

Thankfully for them, Carter has returned. With the score 21-21 and only minutes remaining, the Crusaders were still favourites to win simply because he was playing.


Another reason for the Crusaders to be a little bit positive? Their excellent new Christchurch Stadium which was full of 17,500 supporters so close to the action they could hear new flanker Luke Whitelock's teammates calling him George as they chased in support. Brother George has an Achilles injury and wasn't playing.