WELLINGTON • Dan Carter's surprise return to New Zealand rugby after five years away was welcomed yesterday, though Waikato Chiefs coach Warren Gatland joked that the 38-year-old was "getting a bit old".
Carter has joined the Auckland Blues for New Zealand's Super Rugby Aotearoa competition, linking up with Beauden Barrett, his successor in the All Blacks team, and giving coach Leon MacDonald some valuable experience in the young squad.
Super Rugby normally features teams from Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Japan, but the competition has been suspended since March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
New Zealand were forced to set up its own domestic version with global travel restrictions making the usual format unfeasible.
However, the addition of Carter, a three-time World Player of the Year and winner of back-to-back World Cups in 2011 and 2015, had given the watered-down tournament a much-needed boost in terms of star power.
"He's getting a bit old now, 38 or something," former Wales coach Gatland joked in a conference call with reporters. "(But) he has been a legend of New Zealand rugby and I don't see any negatives towards it.
"For him to be able to come back to New Zealand and lace his boots up, I just think it's good for the youngsters."
Carter, who had neck surgery last year and has not played since February, has been a free agent since returning home in March from Japan, where the shutdown ended his lucrative stint with Kobe Steelers.
The fly-half is unlikely to play much of a role early on as he works his way back to full fitness, but he is looking forward to lending his experience to his teammates.
"I've got to be realistic," he said.
Two things from the lockdown that I realised was that I really enjoyed spending more time with my family and that I miss rugby. For me, it is a chance to mentor some young players.
'' DAN CARTER, former All Blacks star, on signing for the Auckland Blues in the Super Rugby Aotearoa tournament.
"I've played six games in the last 18 months, and had three months of no rugby training, no contact… it's going to be a process getting up to speed.
"Two things from the lockdown that I realised was that I really enjoyed spending more time with my family and that I miss rugby.
"For me, it is a chance to mentor some young players."
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