Rejuvenated Carter likely to start in Republic
A start in South Africa appears imminent for Dan Carter.
The curly question is whether it will be against the Lions at Ellis Park on Sunday morning or the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld the next weekend.
It is easy to visualise the Crusaders coaching staff scribbling down the pros and cons of whether the All Blacks star should wear the No 10 jersey against the Lions or be given more time to build his confidence ahead of the more difficult assignment against the Bulls in Pretoria.
Carter comfortably lasted 40 minutes in his comeback match from his groin injury against the Cheetahs on Saturday and could probably start against the Lions if required.
Rookie Tom Taylor manufactured a largely error-free performance at first five-eighth against the Cheetahs, but the return of Carter, even if he is not at his optimum, would send out an array of signals from the Crusaders' camp in northern Johannesburg.
Lions coach John Mitchell would sit bolt upright at the thought of combating Carter at first five-eighth, while the Crusaders backline would benefit immensely from his presence.
So would captain Kieran Read, who would appreciate the old head's ability to switch game plans or read opponents' weaknesses while his head is buried in the combat up front.
"DC [Carter] is one of those guys who will take the advice of the medical staff and it [the groin injury] is one of those things that has to be looked after and requires him to be introduced back bit by bit," assistant coach Dave Hewett said.
"It is also about getting him up to speed with the game and not throwing him in at the deep end."
Whether Carter starts may depend on whether he feels confident enough to take the goal kicks. If he feels his groin cannot manage the stress, it could result in him being listed on the bench.
Taylor retained the kicking duties against the Cheetahs, even when he was shunted out to second-five to accommodate Carter after halftime. With fullback Israel Dagg still cautious about his quadriceps injury, the backup options are limited.
There is a chance George Whitelock could return to blindside flanker in place of youngest sibling Luke if he has recovered from his Achilles tendon problem.
"He's going fine. Missing the Cheetahs game was a chance to let him get that right ahead of the hard graft in Africa," Hewett said.
Lock Tom Donnelly should also be fit after a calf complaint.
Despite the success of their scrum against the Cheetahs – before injuries forced the "golden oldies" rule in the second spell – Hewett hinted the front-row unit could be broken up to allow Wyatt Crockett to start at loosehead prop, which would result in either Ben or Owen Franks starting at tighthead.
Hewett was one of the most pleased observers at AMI Stadium when the Crusaders scrum proved it still possessed its power and technique despite having been humiliated in the loss to the Chiefs a fortnight earlier.
"It just showed you don't become a bad rugby player overnight," he said.
"We had a bad day at the office and we fully admitted that. We tried hard as individuals against the Chiefs but not as a unit. There is a big difference there."