No Dan Carter, no worries for first-five Slade

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 01/02/2014
Colin Slade
DEAN KOZANIC/Fairfax NZ
BREAK AWAY: Colin Slade streaks away from the Waikato defence.

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Dan Carter's absence has caused flashbacks to 2009.

Five years ago Carter was excused from Super Rugby duties to play for French club Perpignan, a tenure made brief by a ruptured Achilles tendon, leaving Colin Slade and Stephen Brett to fight for the Crusaders No 10 jersey.

Carter, now living in Auckland on a non-playing sabbatical, has again left Slade with the chance to rekindle his association with the No 10 jersey.

With Brett departing the Crusaders several years ago, and currently representing French club Bayonne, Slade's competition this time comes from Tom Taylor and Tyler Bleyendaal.

Coach Todd Blackadder says all three will be considered at first five-eighth before the opening match against the Chiefs in Christchurch on February 21.

Slade's return to the Crusaders comes after spending three years at the Highlanders, a tenure laced with frustration because of injuries and a lack of exposure in the finals.

In 2009 he was only 21 and, unlike Brett, had never played Super Rugby.

"I suppose I was a little bit different then, I was starting out and now I've had a few seasons under my belt," Slade says. "Probably at the stage I was just looking to cement a spot - although nothing has changed in that respect because I am still trying to do the same now."

Blackadder's decision on who replaces Carter may be determined by his midfield combination; if Ryan Crotty continues at centre, as was the case when Robbie Fruean required a heart operation last winter, Taylor is the logical candidate to replace him at second-five.

Reynold Lee-Lo - who has transferred from the Hurricanes - and Adam Whitelock also provide midfield options.

With Carter out of the picture, Bleyendaal, who isn't as versatile as Taylor and Slade, is overdue to make his move. The 23-year-old is in his fourth season with the franchise.

While Taylor made his test debut against the Wallabies in Wellington last year at first-five, the more experienced Slade has earned 11 caps since his 2010 debut.

Slade's contract with Canterbury means he has regularly returned to Christchurch but this is the first time he s operated working with Blackadder since 2010.

"I am still having to get used to the way Crusaders do things - there are differences (from the Canterbury set-up). But at the end of the day it is a professional environment, there is hard work to be done and there is no getting around that.

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"And for a change I have had an injury-free pre-season. The body is in the best nick it has ever been at this time of the year. I haven't had one of those for awhile."

The Crusaders will have an inter-squad pre-season match today at Rugby Park.

- Fairfax Media

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