Taylor, Bleyendaal sign up to bridge Carter gap
The Crusaders have begun to prepare for life without Dan Carter by locking-in Tom Taylor and Tyler Bleyendaal for next year.
Although yet to confirm he will skip next season's Super Rugby competition, Carter is expected to activate the sabbatical clause in his New Zealand Rugby Union contract and take a complete break for six months or play in Japan - probably after the All Blacks' northern tour.
The impact of losing the first five-eighth from the Crusaders' campaign has been eased by having Taylor and Bleyendaal back for 2014.
"Yes we have [contracted the pair]. That's a big part of the puzzle," head coach Todd Blackadder confirmed to The Press.
Taylor, who briefly joined the All Blacks on last year's European tour and was invited to their wider training squad camps in May, may benefit most from Carter's absence.
Although capable at first-five, second-five and fullback since his first appearance for the Crusaders last season, Taylor has struggled for regular starts this year until the recent midfield revamp - which has resulted in Robbie Fruean being relegated to the bench - allowed him to grab the No 12 jersey.
Last year, Taylor played five consecutive matches at No 10, while Carter operated at second-five to offer a left-foot kicking option.
Bleyendaal, a specialist No 10, has been used only sporadically in the playmaker's role since his debut in the opening round against the Blues last year.
Carter, who also skipped the Crusaders' 2009 season to play for French club Perpignan before rupturing his Achilles tendon, has stated a return to Europe is unlikely.
The less demanding, yet lucrative Japanese market may appeal but his recent introduction to fatherhood may encourage him to follow the example of Richie McCaw, who like Carter is contracted to the NZ Rugby Union through to 2015, and take a complete break from Super Rugby.
The Crusaders have already begun to make sure they have a strong squad for next season.
"We have contracted a lot of the guys we want to keep and we are working hard to retain the players that we want," Blackadder noted.
A number of All Blacks have been locked-in for next year and beyond.
Loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett is committed to the NZRU until the World Cup. Tighthead Owen Franks has signed until the end of next year and is understood to have a year-by-year provision in his Crusaders contract. Veteran hooker Corey Flynn has signed for next year.
When promising lock Dominic Bird, currently recovering from a ruptured pectoral muscle, turned down the Blues late last year he committed himself to a two-year deal with the Crusaders.
Fellow second-rower Luke Romano, and flankers George Whitelock and Matt Todd, are also expected to return.
Halfback and Crusaders centurion Andy Ellis recently recommitted to the NZRU for two more years and fullback Israel Dagg will also return to the franchise next year.
Utility back Tom Marshall, one of the backline's better performers this year, has said he is keen to stay with the Crusaders and has been negotiating a new deal.
Although eligible to play for England through a grandparent, Marshall is keen to remain in New Zealand. Zac Guildford's NZRU deal expires at the end of the Super Rugby season. After looking offshore, he may recommit to Hawke's Bay for the NPC and return to the Crusaders if the NZRU offer him an extension.
Blackadder's contract with the Crusaders will be up for review by the Crusaders' board at the season's end.