Dan Carter in a Blues jersey might be hard to swallow for Crusaders fans but it's reality after the franchise confirmed his signing today ahead of the Super Rugby Aotearoa season.
Carter confirmed today he has signed on as injury cover for the Blues.
"I want to use my experience to help the Blues," he said in a press conference at the Blues base in Auckland.
"I've been approached a few times over the years when Ted [Sir Graham Henry] was coaching, JK [Sir John Kirwan] as well. I didn't obviously at the time. I didn't think about it.
"When the Japanese season was cancelled I just wanted to spend time with my family. It wasn't until Leon called saying Stevie [Perofeta] had been ruled out for the season, that's when I thought about it. He's a pretty convincing guy."
"It took a while to put it [the jersey] on but once I got out there...it wasn't really a team I thought I would be playing for but it's an opportunity to come to training in the city my family is."
"We've been starved of sport and rugby. As a player we feel the same. With it being around the corner, it's an exciting time. Super Rugby Aotearoa first came around I didn't really think about playing in it... It's more about getting my body up to speed to just be in contention to be selected. A great opportunity to help some of the young guys," Carter added.
Blues coach Leon MacDonald said it's "a great story for rugby".
"He's been in the top level of rugby for a long time and for him to give back attests to his character."
"DC is helping us on that track. We have some young talent who will thrive having him around. We need to look after Dan and progress him. I don't expect to see Dan on the field in the early weeks but when he is ready he'll give us options," MacDonald said.
"He'll be great for us, he's got a level head, selfless, no ego. The younger guys will come over and talk to him. Our team is important this year. Dan epitomises that. He is our Tom Brady, he just keeps going."
"His heart's in the right place. I got him at the right time and I think I might have hit the jackpot here. Maybe he's just coming out of lockdown and still not thinking straight!"
"The young guys don't know whether to shake his hand or get an autograph," MacDonald said.
Carter explained it was his 'competitive edge' that drew him to the Blues.
"There's a competitive edge in all pro spokespeople," Carter added.
"At this stage I have to be realistic. I've played six games in the last 18 months. It's going to be a process...no contact the last three months. The games in Japan gave me a lot of confidence to bounce back from the neck injury I had. Once I can get some work under the belt with the trainings, I want to be out there competing.
"That's what all sportspeople miss - that competitive edge and even just running around out there today brought that back.
Playing against the Crusaders
"I talked to the old man. As a proud Cantab...as he has been throughout my career he's been supportive. I've talked to Razor to let him know my reasoning, too."
"It's all happened really quickly. Last week I probably thought this was the last place I would be."
"I don't want to think about what it would be like to play against the Crusaders - if that were to happen. I'll deal with that later on."
"It's a bit of a favour for a good mate of mine and I'll keep that favour in the back pocket. We've been teammates for a big part of my career and to be coached by him is great," Carter said.
'NZ rugby has given me so much.'
They've obviously gone through a challenging period. To be alongside some young players and someone like Beaudy is a great opportunity to give back," Carter said.
"I haven't even thought about playing alongside Beauden. I've been impressed with the leadership role he's taken with the All Blacks. He was a young fella when I was still playing with him, now I'm looking forward to pick his brain for my learning.
"Fans have been starved of live sport and ho[pefully they will show their appreciation. There's still some uncertainty around the crowd situation but hopefully, they can come out and support their teams."
"My father played til he was 40 so I have to get one up on him. I have a few more years to go yet," Carter said.
"I feel great until I start contact work so it'll be a different story in a few weeks. But there's nothing better than being out there with your teammates. I'm fit, it's just a matter of getting some decent rugby training. Some contact work," he said.
Carter trains with Blues for first time
Carter trained alongside fellow All Blacks number 10 Beauden Barrett as he wore blue for the first time at the Blues base in Auckland today.
The Blues are thought to have been in talks with Carter for some time and a foot injury to Stephen Perofeta, who has been playing fullback for the side, in training this week may have fast-tracked the chance to sign Carter on a replacement contract.
The Blues released a video on social media of Carter in his Blues strip before his confirmation after the training session. Carter played 141 games for the Crusaders, winning three titles, before shifting north to Japan after calling time on his illustrious test career following the 2015 World Cup.
"Two things from the lockdown that I realised was that I really enjoyed spending more time with my family and that I miss rugby," Carter said in a release.
"Leon is a good mate and we spoke about me helping out. For me it is a chance to mentor some young players and to give back to New Zealand Rugby.
Carter said he won't be ready to play next week when the Blues open their competition against the Hurricanes at Eden Park.
"I have not played for several months so it will be a number of weeks before I will be ready to be considered to play. And then only if form warrants it."
"It's an exciting opportunity to train in the same city that my kids go to school in and my family are currently living. It will also be nice to share my experience with some of the young talent they have here at the Blues," he added.
Carter's return to Christchurch
The beauty of the new competition is that all five New Zealand franchises will play each other home and away – meaning Carter could run out for the Blues in Christchurch on July 11. The Crusaders then visit Eden Park in the final round on August 16. Carter hasn't played in Christchurch since the 2015 Rugby Championship.
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Carter is a free agent after finishing his playing commitments with Japanese club Kobe Steelers when the season there was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, and he has since returned to Auckland with his family.
Thirty-eight-year-old Carter was in fine touch in Japan during the past three seasons and his motives for potentially joining the Blues are said to be giving back to New Zealand rugby by sharing his knowledge and experience in the swansong of his career.
Signing Carter, the dual World Cup winner and three-time world player of the year, as a replacement player would also only cost the Blues $1800 per week.
The Blues are expected to hand star recruit Barrett the playmaking reins for their opening match of the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition against the Hurricanes at Eden Park but they also have fellow first five-eighth Otere Black, who was a major factor in steering the team to five wins from seven games before the season shutdown.
Carter's surprise presence would be the icing on the playmaking cake, giving the Blues depth beyond their wildest dreams, especially in a New Zealand derby competition that promises to be brutally combative.
Speaking to Irish first-five Johnny Sexton recently, Carter suggested players could now push their careers into their 40s.
"Using this time off, it's something you don't get as a professional rugby player," Carter said. "Having two or three months, maybe it's going to be much longer, of not having that constant grind, that contact. So it is like a mini sabbatical. I was very fortunate to have a couple through my career, but if it's used wisely the young players that have been playing heavily for the past four or five seasons, it's perfect timing.
"Then you look at the other side of the spectrum with more experienced players like yourself [Sexton], you don't get many opportunities like this. So, if it's used wisely and you keep training, and as long as your motivation upstairs is still there, I can't see why you can't play longer than potentially you thought you might, with having a break like this.
"Obviously, there is some pretty exciting rugby around the corner over the next couple of years, so I told Maro [Itoje, last week's guest] that I expect him to still be playing when he's 38 years old, like myself, and with you having a break like this then you can probably push through to the 40s. So, I'm looking forward to seeing that."
Carter potentially joining the Blues would leave New Zealand rugby stacked with world-class playmakers – a lineup that includes Barrett, Richie Mo'unga at the Crusaders and Aaron Cruden, who was in superb form with the Chiefs after returning from France.
The Blues did not respond to media requests for comment.