Dan Carter given the all-clear for Crusaders
No limp, no bandage, no worries. Dan Carter is back.
The longer Carter raced around in the gloom at Crusaders training yesterday, the more you could sense the sun was entering Todd Blackadder's world.
Carter's return not only sets up a duel against fellow All Blacks first five-eighth Aaron Cruden, it also offers the Crusaders a genuine shot of rolling the Chiefs during their hunt for a Super wildcard play-off spot.
Having delayed naming his team until Carter had road-tested his injured hamstring, Crusaders coach Blackadder appeared relieved when confirming he would join fellow All Blacks Kieran Read and Israel Dagg in starting at Waikato Stadium tomorrow night.
Without Carter the Crusaders – even with hard-running No8 Read back in their colours – faced an uphill task against a Chiefs side psychologically buoyed by having already secured a finals spot and boasting the in-form Cruden. "He [Carter] looks really sharp. I thought last week Tom [Taylor] did a great job but we just lacked experience," Blackadder said after the session. "DC brings the big-game experience for these moments. It's just good to have him back."
That is an understatement.
Carter hasn't played since nudging over the late dropped goal in the All Blacks 22-19 win in the second test on June 16 but his arrival may ensure the Crusaders don't flap about in midfield as they did during last weekend's shock loss to the Hurricanes.
His long kicking game and tactical awareness should mean his backline resists running the ball from positions where turnovers could ensure their fate is terminal.
All Blacks spectators will also recollect the impact Cruden made when he last played at Waikato Stadium in the 60-0 rout over Ireland on June 23.
Despite an Achilles tendon problem limiting his outing to just 24 minutes the tough No10 had a hand in all four opening tries and his ability to offload, including one gem to Chiefs team-mate Sonny Bill Williams, was pivotal.
Although he had not been running at full pace since injuring himself at All Blacks training, Carter looked confident during yesterday's practice which was notable for its intensity. He didn't wear strapping on his hamstring, was able to change pace without any concerns and didn't require any extra physio.
Having watched the 23-22 loss to the Hurricanes, Carter noted the Crusaders were punished because of a lack of intensity. His return will also bolster the defensive line, with Williams his key target when drifting one-out.
Read's return from concussion means Richie McCaw moves back to openside flanker in place of Matt Todd and fullback Israel Dagg, who showed no ill-effects from his sprained ankle, starts ahead of Sean Maitland.
Loosehead Wyatt Crockett has been rotated to the bench with the Franks brothers starting.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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