Dan Carter is set to take a playing sabbatical in 2014 while Ma’a Nonu is being wooed to walk away from the All Blacks in favour of a permanent move to Japanese rugby.
Nanjing Night Net

They are the latest machinations around New Zealand’s highest profile players following All Blacks captain Richie McCaw’s decision to take a six-month break from all rugby next year.

Carter has ruled out taking a sabbatical next year but has hinted at playing overseas rather than having a rest.

After missing a large chunk of the world cup triumph and this year’s Crusaders campaign, he is keen to play a full season in 2013 to help the franchise cover McCaw’s leadership absence – welcome news for Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder.

But a spanner has been thrown into the works of Sir John Kirwan’s plans to retain Nonu at the Blues with cashed-up Japanese club Ricoh wanting the experienced second five-eighth to come back for another season.

Nonu, 30, had a stint in Japan between last year’s world cup and joining the Blues. Ricoh want him back and are prepared to pay big money. It is unlikely the NZRU would allow Nonu to use his off-season break for a second successive Japanese stint, raising speculation he may opt out of the last year of his NZ contract.

That would also spell the end of Nonu’s All Blacks career and leave coach Steve Hansen short of options at second-five following the departure of Sonny Bill Williams.

Hansen also indicated earlier this year that Carter’s workload would need to be carefully monitored after a calf injury ruled him out of tests against Argentina and the Springboks.

But Carter, 30, also moved to allay fears he needs to be managed following a concerning run of injuries. The world’s premier first five-eighth took longer than expected to regain fitness and his long-range kicking ability after suffering a serious groin injury during last year’s world cup, but showed against the Pumas last week just how valuable his experience and world-class composure is.

“I had a good break [after] getting injured at the world cup and taking a bit of time out at the start of the year travelling around America and South America. That was a great break. I just want to play rugby for the rest of this year and next year especially,” Carter told the Star-Times in South Africa.

“I feel fresh mentally. I’m in a good space and don’t feel like I need any breaks. I’m really excited about the future.

“It’s been frustrating to watch the last few home games. I’ve been working hard to make sure I was back to full fitness.”

With a full season in New Zealand next year, Carter’s contractual right to a sabbatical is more likely to be exercised in 2014 with a playing stint in Europe. Carter is no stranger to the lucrative French club scene and could be tempted to return despite his ill-fated stint with Perpignan which was cut short by an Achilles injury. Fuelling that speculation, New Zealander Vern Cotter, who coaches Clermont, met Carter when home during the French off season.

“I’m not 100% sure but sometimes playing in a different country can be just as good as a break in terms of the mental side of things; a change of routine and new challenges. That gives you a new motivation and freshness,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kirwan remains hopeful that Nonu will choose to stay with the Blues and says he expects to get an answer later this week.

“They [NZRU] have given him an extension to when he gets home from South Africa on Tuesday,” Kirwan said. “So I would be expecting some sort of answer out of the NZRU by the end of the week and I’m OK with that.”

A perfect scenario for Kirwan would be for Nonu to team up in the midfield with Mils Muliaina next season. Muliaina, 32, has been playing in Japan but the All Blacks centurion has been offered a contract to join the Blues next season.

Fairfax NZ News

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