Dan Carter has given his Southbridge club one giant reason to beat Lincoln this Saturday afternoon.
If Southbridge win their combined country club quarter dhfinal they should be able to select All Blacks first five-eighths Carter for the semifinal on June 14.
Defeat will mean they must enter a third-fourth playoff. Co-coach Wayne Love said the prospect of forcing All Blacks great Carter to perform in a less-celebrated match won't be used as motivation to win the semi.
''We have just got to make sure we do everything we can win the game,'' Love maintained. ''There's not really that sort of pressure because it's not about Dan.''
Carter, who has not played since limping off Twickenham with an Achilles tendon injury on November 16, will require a dispensation to play in the club finals because he has not appeared in a round-robin game this season.
He has been on sabbatical since that London match, travelling extensively and recovering from ankle surgery. The first sighting of Carter in rugby gear was when he recently joined the All Blacks for a light run at their Christchurch training camp.
''The plan is for him to play the next two or three weeks for Southbridge,'' Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder confirmed. ''He could even get a bit of game time this weekend, a little more the next (weekend) and then start the following Saturday (if Southbridge make the final).''
Despite Blackadder's optimism, Southbridge have circled June 14 for Carter's comeback.
If Southbridge lose to Lincoln it means they will not have a fixture for Carter to play on June 21. This means he may have to play for a Christchurch metro club, possibly his former club, High School Old Boys, to get another run to prove his fitness before the Crusaders next Super Rugby match, against the Hurricanes in Wellington on June 28.
Blackadder had no issue with Carter sacrificing the Crusaders' historic match against England on June 17 so he can be fit to represent Southbridge.
''It's a really good move. That's because it gives him the very best preparation, he's not being rushed back into the team. Especially because of the heavy grounds, that would be the best thing for him really.''
Blackadder said he will wait to see what role Colin Slade plays in the All Blacks series against England before deciding who will start at No th10 against the Hurricanes.
Slade has thrived since returning to the Crusaders this season. If he is fully fit Blackadder may name Carter on the bench and ease him back into Super Rugby.
Blackadder is not expecting to have any of his nine All Blacks released for the match against England. Wing Nemani Nadolo will also miss the fixture because he will be on duty for Fiji.
''I'm happy with the amount of players we have here. We might be a bit thin at lock with Sam Whitelock and Dominic Bird with the All Blacks but we can use Jimmy Tupou and Joel Everson to start.''
Another lock, Luke Romano, is recovering from a broken leg.
The Crusaders, who now sit at the head of the New Zealand conference and are placed third overall, will return to training next Monday to prepare for the England game.
- The Press