Carter back on kicking duties
Finally, after 42 days and no shortage of national angst, Dan Carter will be reunited with the No10 jersey tomorrow night.
Carter's absenteeism from first five-eighth has instigated a mini-tornado of debate since he was directed to No12 to allow goal-kicking supremo Tom Taylor to start at playmaker in the previous five rounds.
Now it should end: Carter yesterday confirmed he will kick goals for the first time since the 32-30 loss to the Bulls in Pretoria on April 8 and ticked off the reasons why All Blacks fans should stop fretting ahead of next month's series against Ireland.
Although the pain in his groin, which he still experiences when shooting for goal, has not disappeared, it is receding and he is confident it will not affect him against the Blues at AMI Stadium.
While conceding there was still tightness around the tendon he ruptured during last year's Rugby World Cup, it was not getting worse because of his kicking load.
"I'm not completely pain-free but at a level where I can kick and finish a session and not be worse off because of it."
Carter's recovery has enabled him to bulk-up his preparations after being restricted to five to 10 shots a session last week; he kicked 10 on Tuesday and 12 yesterday.
Taylor wasn't considered due to a minor quadriceps injury, with Ryan Crotty returning to No12 for the first time since the Pretoria game.
Despite Taylor's injury, it was likely Carter would return to No10 this week and the Crusaders desperately require their backline maestro to instigate some electricity into a side that produced such a tepid effort during last weekend's 28-19 defeat to the Rebels. "I haven't been hiding it, [first five-eighth] is my preferred position, so I have a chance to play well and reclaim that jersey," Carter said.
If Carter is injured or cannot kick, Tyler Bleyendaal is on the bench as insurance.
While not attempting any long-range kicks at training, Carter is confident he can punish the Blues if they cop any penalties near halfway.
"Obviously I have lost a bit of power but, if we have a penalty from 40m out, I will be happy to kick it.
"It is just a matter of stepping up there and doing it. If I strike the ball well enough it will go over, yeah."
The selections of Carter and Ryan Crotty are among seven changes implemented by clearly annoyed coach Todd Blackadder following the loss in Melbourne.
No8 Kieran Read has been omitted because of the pelvis injury that forced him off against the Rebels and Luke Whitelock was also overlooked because of a minor head knock. Richie McCaw shifts back to No8, allowing Matt Todd to return to openside flanker.
Halfback Andy Ellis returns to duel with All Black team-mate Piri Weepu.
Adam Whitelock replaces right wing Sean Maitland and fullback Israel Dagg ousts Tom Marshall back to the bench.
The majority of changes were expected, although Maitland, who was rarely sighted against the Rebels, has been chopped for not reaching Blackadder's expectations.
"He's been a great player and I'm sure he will bounce back from this but the reason he isn't in the side is because he's not performing," Blackadder said.