Dan Carter’s Kiwi comeback a great story, but fairytale ending might be far-fetched
5 June, 2020, 11:20 am
Whoa. Let’s rein the horses in just a little. The narrative that has Dan Carter galloping in as a figurative knight to the rescue of the Blues is one fuelled more by romanticism than reality.
Carter, no doubt, is a handy pickup by the Blues as an injury replacement for crocked fullback/first five Stephen Perofeta for the upcoming Super Rugby Aotearoa. It ticks a lot of boxes for his one-time team-mate, and now coach, Leon MacDonald.
And one heck of a story as, at the age of 38, one of the great All Blacks of all time makes an unexpected comeback in New Zealand and finally completes a move that those with long memories will know has been in the wind for a long, long time.
It’s the sort of tale that sport throws up periodically and which people naturally lap up with relish. Old decorated warrior straps ‘em on for one last return to the battlefield. Can he summon the magic one more time? Can he wind back the clock?
It’s what you might call a win-win situation. The Blues get a New Zealand rugby legend to slot in, provide some depth around No 10 — where they’ve gone from the proverbial famine to a feast — and also a strong locker-room voice and role model for their younger players.
And Super Rugby Aotearoa — this hybrid competition born out of the Covid-19 pandemic and resultant global sporting shutdown — gets a priceless PR injection that elevates it even further in the public consciousness. Not just in New Zealand, either, but all the way round the watching rugby world.
If things weren’t already interesting enough with rugby’s professional return being undertaken in New Zealand, arguably the most successful country in the world at dealing with this global pandemic, they have just gone up several notches.
Carter is a living legend in the last vestiges of one of the great professional careers. He played 112 tests, won two World Cups, and scored a record 1598 points for the All Blacks. He was, for a sustained period, as good as it gets in the No 10 jersey at the international and franchise level.
And now he’s back, lining up — would you believe — alongside the man who is most often compared to him in terms of impact, skill and explosiveness in Beauden Barrett. It’s like getting to watch Michael Jordan and LeBron James play in the same team for one last, delicious, captivating lap of the track.
Make no mistake, this is a ratings winner for the Blues franchise. The outfit that has been the laughing stock of New Zealand rugby for the best part of a decade, is now the club everyone is talking about heading into the much-anticipated return of top-level rugby.
And at the same time they’ve given themselves some pretty interesting options in terms of their makeup in the playmaking positions.
But it’s here where reality needs to kick in.
Carter won’t simply waltz in to play No 10 for the Blues when they kick off Super Rugby Aotearoa on June 14 against the Hurricanes, as much as the rugby world would love nothing better than for that to transpire.
They already have three pretty decent options there as it is, and Carter will join the queue, most probably from the back. He was the first to admit as such at his media appearance on Thursday, conceding he has a long way to go to reach adequate fitness after so little rugby over the last 18 months.
Before Perofeta’s injury, MacDonald would have been toying with starting Barrett at either 10 or 15, alongside either Otere Black or Perofeta in a dual playmaker setup, with the third option coming off the bench.
Now Barrett must surely have firmed as the option to start at 15, with Black at 10 and either Harry Plummer or Carter covering on the bench. Probably the former through the early rounds at least.
Remember, Barrett, too, has yet to play for the franchise and before the competition shut down in mid-March both Black (at 10) and Perofeta (at 15) had been playing the house down for a rejuvenated Blues outfit.
So MacDonald has some thinking to do. Around Barrett. Around Black. And around Carter.
n terms of the latter, there have to be major question marks over his ability to genuinely compete at this level. MacDonald himself commented just last week that eight Kiwi derbies in 10 weeks shapes as the closest thing many of these players will come to the intensity of test footy.
Carter hasn’t played at that level since 2015. He is assuredly not the player now he was five years ago. To suggest that at 38 he could be is simply suspending disbelief.
He played in France (for Racing 92) from 2015-18 and most recently in Japan (for Kobelco Steelers) from 2018-20 in a post-All Blacks phase that has seen his playing time and influence steadily decrease. He has also had major neck surgery and has appeared in six matches over the last year and a-half.
But one thing we do know: this is Dan Carter. His instincts and inherent ability once elevated him to the position of finest No 10 on the planet. They will remain in some form.
What Carter can’t counter is the one number on his bio that screams as most relevant right now. It is his age.
Remember, Father Time is undefeated. But he might need to ready for a heck of a tussle.