How did the Blues manage to sign Dan Carter?

Carter with his new coach Leon MacDonald. Photo: NZH / Brett Phibbs
Carter with his new coach Leon MacDonald. Photo: NZH / Brett Phibbs
If at first you don't succeed, try and try again. The Blues sure subscribe to this theory. Signing Dan Carter is a case of third time lucky for a franchise once deprived of world-class playmakers.

How times have changed. Not so long ago Beauden Barrett was entrenched at the Hurricanes while Carter continued to dazzle abroad.

Leon MacDonald, Carter's former Crusaders teammate turned Blues coach, has succeeded where two knights, Graham Henry and John Kirwan, could not. Much of that comes down to timing.

While Carter won't be available for selection until his body gets used to contact again – a timeframe expected to take at least three weeks – MacDonald believes he has hit the jackpot in securing Carter's knowledge and experience, with plans to use him as a utility and mentor across the Blues backline.

Carter will be teaming up with former All Black understudy Beauden Barrett. Photo: NZH / Brett...
Carter will be teaming up with former All Black understudy Beauden Barrett. Photo: NZH / Brett Phibbs
Twice previously Carter came close to joining the Blues. On both occasions, his loyalty to the Crusaders where he spent 13 seasons and helped deliver three titles, and tugs on the heartstrings from family, swayed his decision to knock back offers.

This time it is different. This time the Blues fit.

So much has changed with the world as we know it and, indeed, in the 38-year-old's career since Henry and Kirwan's approaches.

That extends to the sentiments of Carter's family, including 90-year-old nana, Pam, who begged her grandson not to move north in 2009, and father Neville.

"She'd probably prefer me to hang up the boots but she's been saying that for the last 10 years," Carter said after his first training appearance with the Blues on Thursday. "I talked to the old man. He's a proud Cantab, but like he has been throughout my career, he was really supportive. That goes a long way, having that family support."

Carter also made a courtesy call to Crusaders coach Scott Robertson to inform him of his reasoning for joining the Blues.

"I haven't really thought about what it'll be like to play against the Crusaders – if that ever happens, I'll deal with that at the time."

Playing in the same city as wife Honor and their three children was another major factor.

"One of my sons realised I'd finished playing in Japan and he was over the moon that I was back home for good. He was asking if I was retiring and I said 'I'm not too sure' and he said 'why don't you just go play for the Blues'. They're pretty pleased to have me home so this gives me an opportunity to do what I love and go home to my family at the end of the day."

For all the sense it made, pulling on the Blues jersey for the first time felt a little strange.

"It took a while to get it on but once I was training I loved being out there. It reminded me exactly what I was missing over the last three months.

"It's not a team I thought I'd be training with, or colours I'd be wearing, but the current situation presents an opportunity."

That opportunity came about after the global coronavirus pandemic cut short Carter's third season in Japan after five matches and a foot fracture to Stephen Perofeta opened the door for the Blues to lure the dual World Cup-winner on a replacement contract in which he will earn $1800 per-week in the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition, starting next week.

MacDonald and Carter had discussed a non-playing role but the situation evolved rapidly this week.

"We'd talked in the past about maybe coming along and helping Beauden [Barrett] and the kickers – doing a little bit of informal work but I guess this is a little bit more formal. He's a pretty convincing guy to get me along.

"I haven't played or trained over the last few months, so it's not like I'll be playing the next few weeks. I've got to be realistic. I've played six games in 18 months, and had three months of no rugby training. It's going to be a process getting up to speed.

"Once I get that work under the belt with the trainers and medical team it's part of your nature that you want to be out there competing – that's what you miss when you're in lockdown. Even running out there today brought a little bit of that back."

Barrett is expected to swiftly slot in the driver's seat when the Blues host the Hurricanes at Eden Park next week, while Manawatu's Otere Black guided the team superbly before the season shutdown.

Once in the required condition, Carter could cover 10, 12, 13 or fullback. Whenever he plays, his signing completes a rags-to-riches tale of playmakers for the Blues and offers further renewed hope for their prospects.

"I got the timing right – I got him when he was coming out of lockdown and not quite thinking straight and he's a man of his word so he couldn't go back on it so I might have hit the jackpot there," MacDonald enthused.

"We're pretty lucky. The young guys have come up to him and they're pinching themselves. They don't know whether to shake his hand or get an autograph. It's surreal for some of our players.

"We'll take our time and make sure we progress Dan safely. He's got a lot of work to get through before he's considered for selection so don't expect to see DC on the rugby field in the early weeks by any stretch.

"When he is ready to go it will be on a needs basis. He's signed as a utility to give us options.

"He's our Tom Brady - he just doesn't stop, and he's still got a lot more to give."

The third attempt to sign Carter could well prove a charm.






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