Good and bad news for Crusaders
THE good news is Dan Carter's injury rehabilitation is on track and he could play for the Crusaders in their first home game in March.
The bad news for his long-suffering fans in Christchurch is that the first "home" game might not even be in the South Island.
Carter and his fellow All Blacks were officially on deck with their franchises on Monday for the first time since their World Cup victory.
The first five-eighths, who missed the majority of the global tourney from a groin adductor injury, is rehabilitating well from the surgery performed a fortnight before the final.
He and All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, who is recovering from an operation on his right foot, are not taking part in pre-season training, but Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said prospects for the newlywed Carter were positive.
"He is going to be back in March, hopefully for our first or second home game. He is still in rehab mode but he's looking in good shape."
He wasn't able to pinpoint a date for McCaw's comeback but wasn't expecting an early return from his skipper anyway because of a rest clause in his contract.
The Crusaders had hoped to have their new stadium in the Christchurch suburb of Addington completed for their first home game of the season, the round-three match against the Chiefs on March 9. But the stadium, on the site of an old league ground adjacent to the racetrack, was given the green light only in early November and progress since then has been slow.
The franchise conceded before Christmas that the venue wouldn't be ready in time and have switched their attention to their second home game on March 24 against the Cheetahs.
It's understood the two venues in the running to host the Crusaders' first "home" game are McLean Park in Napier or Trafalgar Park in Nelson.
Last year the Crusaders, who didn't play a home game in Christchurch because of the earthquakes, also played the Chiefs in Napier, and this fixture is likely to be a popular one as it will be the first time Sonny Bill Williams has come up against his former team.
The advantage of playing in Napier is a big pay day for the cash-strapped franchise, which last year announced a loss of almost $700,000. But it will disappoint supporters of the team in Christchurch and Nelson who are unable to make the trip.
While two of the Crusaders' highest-profile players are recovering from injury, the longer pre-season is likely to benefit the rest of New Zealand's Super Rugby players and could result in fewer early-season injuries. "It gives everyone a chance to prepare properly," Blackadder said.
"Last year we only had 10 days of pre-season before Christmas and after that it was straight into it. This year our non-ABs got five weeks to prepare before Christmas - we haven't had that since Super 12 days [1996-2005].
"Right across the board, all of the New Zealand players will benefit from that. It also gives coaches time to develop their messages and philosophies."