The Crusaders will look to put poor pre-season results behind them with a win against the Rebels in Christchurch on Friday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
The seven-time champions lost to the Highlanders (29-27), Hurricanes (41-31) and Reds (35-12) in the buildup to this year's Vodacom Super Rugby tournament, but don't read too much into that. They have reached the Super Rugby semi-finals for the past 13 years – an incredible record – and you'd be brave or stupid to bet against them doing so again in 2015, even if they are required to rest their All Blacks for two rounds of the competition.
The Rebels, meanwhile, will go into this year's tournament in a good frame of mind having won both of their pre-season games against the Reds (28-13) and Highlanders (25-24). They will also take heart from the fact that they beat the Crusaders 28-19 in Melbourne in 2012, and were very competitive in the 2013 and 2014 meetings, going down 30-26 in Christchurch and then 25-19 in Melbourne.
The Saders are notorious slow starters in Super Rugby, so Saturday's clash could be another close one, with Carter proving to be the difference.
The flyhalf was injured during the 2014 Super Rugby final, before returning for the All Blacks' end-of-year tour. He came on as a substitute against the USA and started against Scotland, but wasn't selected for the two big Tests against England and Wales.
A fully-fit Carter now has the chance to play a full Super Rugby season (fitness permitting, of course) and regain his All Blacks No 10 jersey for the Rugby Championship and World Cup.
Having struggled during the Crusaders' final pre-season game against the Reds, the 32-year-old will be hoping to start the season proper with a bang.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Crusaders 2, Rebels 1
In Christchurch: Crusaders 1, Rebels 0
CARTER'S STATS THAT MATTER
297 – The number of minutes Carter played for the Crusaders out of a possible 1,440 last season, due to his rugby sabbatical
128 – The number of Super Rugby caps he has earned since 2003
1,581 – The record number of Super Rugby points he has scored (33 tries, 264 conversions, 282 penalties, 11 drop goals)
7 – The number of Super Rugby finals he has played in (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2014)
Crusaders – 15 Colin Slade, 14 Robbie Fruean, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Richie McCaw, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Wyatt Crockett, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Ryan Crotty, 23 Nathaniel Apa.
Rebels – 15 Mike Harris, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Paul Alo-Emile, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Scott Fuglistaller, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Sefanaia Naivalu.