Andy Ellis hopes Dan Carter can make difference
Even Andy Ellis seems startled by the ebullient Dan Carter.
Since returning from his sabbatical Carter, who is expected to once again start at second five-eighth to allow Colin Slade to retain his playmaker role in Saturday night's semifinal against the Sharks at AMI Stadium, seems to have rediscovered his love for being a professional rugby player.
The grind of heading to Rugby Park for trainings has been replaced by levels of enthusiasm that had Ellis, who has played alongside the All Blacks maestro at the Crusaders since 2006, chattering in an animated fashion yesterday.
"It's the most I have seen him [excited]," Ellis said. "He's not drinking and we know DC loves a beer.
"He's in the pool after every session, stretching, he's in the gym first thing. It's just incredible.
"To have him back and kind of leading the way for a lot of the other guys to show this is what it takes to be playing really well at this level is great."
Carter decided to take a break from drinking alcohol several months ago but if he helps the Crusaders win their first Super Rugby title since 2008 he may find an excuse to indulge in a few celebratory ales.
Although his return to the Crusaders on June 28, when he took the field as a replacement in the 16-9 loss to the Hurricanes, was hardly remarkable it was what Carter has done since that has proved the 100-test veteran still possesses the class to scare opponents.
His work when leading-up the defensive line has been clinical and he can still accelerate through gaps when sighting mis-matches or by using the power around his hips to bust tackles.
"It's just nice having a guy like him out on the field who smiles and has a calm manner," Ellis said.
The return of Carter should also mean the Crusaders don't make the same errors that proved so costly when they lost 30-25 to the 14-man Sharks in late May.
Despite having experienced leaders such as Richie McCaw, Ryan Crotty and later Ellis, when he replaced Willi Heinz, on the track the Crusaders made the fatal mistake of not changing their game plan.
"We went in with that mindset that we were going to kick because that's what they do, they kick and try and pressure you," Ellis said. "So we decided we were going to kick back and put it back on them. But when they got down to 13 men we probably should have gone to a style of rugby where we moved them around a little bit more."