Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has confirmed the club had conversations with former stalwart Owen Franks about a return in red and black before he ultimately signed with the Hurricanes.
The 33-year-old prop is set to join the Hurricanes on a one-year deal for the 2022 season, after spending a decade playing for the Crusaders before heading offshore at the end of 2019.
While the Crusaders looked into bringing Franks back into the squad, Robertson said they didn't have the space to facilitate it.
"If we had space and it had worked out, we'd have loved to have Owie back. He's been great to us for a long period of time, but it's a professional sport and the timing didn't quite work," he said.
"We went through the process. They have to obviously come home first. But with our contracting, he still had a year on his contract with Northampton so we weren't expecting it at all and we had a full roster.
"It's a professional game, and that's where the opportunity was. We appreciate that he's made that decision and it's best for him and his family."
Franks played 150 games for the Crusaders from 2009 to 2019, winning three Super Rugby titles with the club. He also earned 108 test caps for the All Blacks during the same 10-year span, and was part of the 2011 and 2015 World Cup winning campaigns.
In 2022, he will link up with the young group of props at the Hurricanes, featuring All Black Tyrel Lomax (25), and rising stars Alex Fidow (23) and Tevita Mafileo (23).
The Hurricanes are yet to announce the signing and it is unclear what his role will be, however Robertson said Franks' experience and knowledge would be a huge asset to the Wellington franchise.
"Owie is the ultimate professional. He understands how to get the best out of his body, knows his way around a competition – he's played plenty of them, and more importantly he's a world-class scrummager and he can hand down all that craft that he knows. It'll be great for the Hurricanes forward pack."
However, Robertson wasn't overly concerned with the 2022 season as he looked to lead the Crusaders into Super Rugby Transtasman, where they have the chance to claim their sixth title in five years.
The Crusaders will host the Brumbies in Christchurch on Saturday night, with several familiar names missing from the starting XV. The only change in the pack sees Mitchell Dunshea starting in place of Scott Barrett, who has been named on the bench, while in the backline, Will Jordan is out for rest purposes, with George Bridge moving to fullback and Manasa Mataele starting on the wing. Braydon Ennor moves into the starting side in the midfield, with Leicester Fainga'anuku moving to the wing and Sevu Reece pushed back to the bench.
Robertson said it was an exciting prospect and, while they hadn't faced an Australian opponent for some time, they had an idea of what to expect.
"You know their DNA; you know how they play from different years. That hasn't changed that much. It's probably just how they've evolved as a group and the players that have come through. A lot of the teams have had lots of changes, but the two top teams – what a hell of a final, eh? Physical, tough, game went down to the wire, a lot of passion and emotion. Aussie teams are always physical, we know that, and they'll turn up," he said.
"It's quite cool not playing our brothers around the country and get over the old Tasman Sea and seeing what happens. We're all thinking about what the quality of footy is going to be like and how everyone is going to front up. We'll be watching Friday night's games just like everyone else to see where this competition is heading."
Crusaders: George Bridge, Manasa Mataele, Braydon Ennor, David Havili, Leicester Fainga'anuku, Richie Mo'unga, Bryn Hall, Cullen Grace, Tom Sanders, Ethan Blackadder, Samuel Whitelock, Mitchell Dunshea, Michael Alaalatoa, Codie Taylor, George Bower.
Reserves: Brodie McAlister, Tamaiti Williams, Oliver Jager, Scott Barrett, Brendon O'Connor, Ereatara Enari, Fergus Burke, Sevu Reece.