Dan Carter undecided on sabbatical option
First five keeps options openRICHARD KNOWLER
The notable absence of Richie McCaw as the Crusaders trained in sun-baked Culverden instigated the inevitable question for Dan Carter yesterday.
With Carter having a sabbatical clause in his New Zealand Rugby Union contract, should supporters treasure the sight of him in Crusaders colours before he follows McCaw's lead and takes a complete break from next year's Super Rugby competition?
Should first five-eighth Carter choose to bypass his Crusaders obligations in 2014 it would allow him to freshen up ahead of the 2015 World Cup, something All Blacks coach Steve Hansen would undoubtedly support.
Carter has several options: he can completely ditch his rugby gear for six months or look to bolster his bank balance by signing a lucrative contract in Europe or Japan.
Before he skipped the Crusaders' campaign in 2009 to join French club Perpignan, Carter signalled well in advance he was open to the prospect of playing overseas.
But with his wife, Honor, expecting their first child in April and Hansen last year acknowledging Carter is considered a "red flag" player - someone whose workload needs to be carefully managed - the idea of taking a complete break from the sport may hold more appeal.
"I just want to get through this year and concentrate on the here and now without looking too far ahead," Carter said.
"Whether I even use my sabbatical I am not sure - and even if I do decide to do it, it's whether I decide to take a break from rugby like Richie has and freshen up or try my hand at another rugby competition.
"It's something for the future and not on my mind at the moment."
Last month NZRU chief executive Steve Tew hinted centre Conrad Smith may skip next year's Hurricanes campaign to rest his body, and given his value to the All Blacks as they begin planning to defend the World Cup, Carter may be encouraged to do the same.
In 2011 Carter and McCaw re-signed with the NZRU for another four years but their commitment came with strings attached.
Although his move to Perpignan was a nice fit for Carter - even though he appeared in only a handful of games before rupturing his Achilles tendon - that may no longer appeal.
The physical grind of playing in France is unlikely to give his body the respite it requires ahead of a World Cup and even the big-ticket clubs may struggle to afford the salary that Carter's management team demand.
Toulon could be an option if Jonny Wilkinson leaves at the end of the northern season but a number of other clubs have already filled their rosters.
Clermont coach Vern Cotter, who got to know Carter when he assisted Robbie Deans at the Crusaders in 2005-2006, was interested in signing him but the club's owners may consider his price tag too hefty.
Racing Metro are chasing Ireland's Jonny Sexton and Perpignan have already got Wales' James Hook on their books.
Carter, who expects to play the opening round match against the Blues on March 1, acknowledged the new addition to his family would also have to be considered when he decided whether to take a break or head offshore.
- The Press
Who was the best-performed All Blacks forward on the northern tour?