Opinion – Auckland got a couple of things it really needed today, the first being the rain that tumbled down in sheets. The second was a guy who looked more than happy to be getting soaked in it.
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No one in the big media contingent that braved the wet weather could actually believe it till they saw it, but there he was – Dan Carter running around Alexandra Park with a Blues training jersey on this morning.
The 112-test veteran and world record points scorer looked a little bit sheepish as he approached the hastily set up press conference spot under one of the harness racing track’s stands.
Shivering a bit from the cold in his soaking socks, he began simply by acknowledging the surprise around his shock decision to return to Super Rugby.
He then went on to very much give us the impression that this deal had only been agreed to a matter of days ago, with coach and former Crusaders and All Black teammate Leon MacDonald joking that Carter clearly hadn’t done it for financial reasons.
That’s definitely true. Carter, who was once the highest paid player in the world, stands to make around a couple of grand a week as an injury replacement squad member. Which in itself makes little sense; he’s there to fill in for the stricken Stephen Perofeta, however won’t be available himself for almost the first month of the competition. But this isn’t about what the 38-year-old Carter can contribute on the field, at least not yet.
The only real area of concern for MacDonald is how this looks given Otere Black’s career-best form before Super Rugby was halted in March. That and how Carter’s arrival was leaked, via a screenshot from a WhatsApp group of players and staff last night that quickly made it to Twitter.
But even that was dealt with well. It meant the Blues really had no choice but to front the matter, and to their credit they moved swiftly and positively on it, taking less than a day to organise their new star signing to be available for the cameras and a 20-minute stand-up alongside his coach.
Contrast that to the Highlanders, who wouldn’t (or couldn’t) arrange anything official at all for Nehe Milner-Skudder’s signing a few weeks back. Because this is what DC to the Blues is actually about. Within minutes of the rumour starting on social media last night it was dominating conversations. Now that it’s official, the chatter about the team a week and a half out from their first game in the revamped Super Rugby Aotearoa is only going to amplify exponentially.
Carter sure to attract a crowd
To confound predictions further, the fixture against the Hurricanes on 14 June is looking all the more likely to be played in front of a crowd at Eden Park. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will announce the start date for level 1 Covid-19 restrictions on Monday, and if her previous timeframes are anything to go by, it’ll be OK to have mass gatherings by the end of the week. This is, much to the delight of NZ Rugby, just in time for kickoff and an unanticipated bonus gate taking for the Blues.
The Beauden Barrett and Carter factor, plus the crowds being allowed back in, is another huge positive on top of something that people are getting justifiably excited about anyway.
Photo: Photosport Ltd
The biggest issue with Super Rugby over the past decade has been waning interest in watching offshore teams, but now that’s been rectified by stripping them out completely and having a virtual 10-week All Black trial. Add in the (admittedly circumstance-enforced) afternoon kickoff times and what could have been a disaster of a season is all of a sudden something fresh and exciting.
Whether anyone likes it or not, Super Rugby really does need Auckland to have a strong presence. While correlation does not always equal causation, seeing Eden Park attendances drop off along with the Blues’ fortunes over the last eight seasons has been a horrible look for the competition in New Zealand, given that they draw from the largest market and highest player base.
The sad story of the Blues is that they’ve been the only New Zealand team that hasn’t had a world class first-five since Carlos Spencer retired. Now, all of a sudden, they have potentially the two best ever.
Now there’s something worth talking about.