It’s the most interesting thing that’s happened all year in rugby, and it didn’t involve anyone actually stepping on to the field. The NZ Herald has just announced Dan Carter will not be signing with the Blues, instead, he’ll be returning to his beloved Christchurch and the supple bosom of the Crusaders franchise. We were lead to believe Dan Carter had all but guaranteed his signing with Auckland for $400,000, some designer hair product and a small piece of his soul. Maybe that’s because every media outlet reported that he had.
In many ways it seemed like a natural fit. Carter’s minders want us to believe he feels OK wearing tight fitting underwear and metro-sexual attire in way that only an Auckland professional dressed by his girlfriend can. But despite their best efforts, no amount of public training can supersede the awkwardness that sits in the very fibre of Carter’s being. Carter mumbles through interviews like he’s at a 8th grade school dance and sheepishly models clothes as though trying them on for his Mum. So he may just be the strong, silent southern man we all secretly hope he is. Christchurch is his spiritual homeland, a place where rugby is played with little fuss and you don’t need to drive up hills (but there are some there if you want to). Maybe he couldn’t deny it any longer. Or perhaps the notoriously powerful Christchurch mafia had a part to play (Jason Gunn and Simon Barnett are members).
Interestingly, the media obviously got a tip on this that they were wildly confident of, that has now turned out to be thoroughly inaccurate. Someone either jumped the gun on this story or , or perhaps more likely, Carter had a last minute change of heart. The details are likely to come out tomorrow, but it didn’t seem that the Crusaders could come close to matching Auckland’s offer – Blackadder didn’t even bother trying. So Carter’s change of heart must have been at an emotional level, which is surprising, mostly because it didn’t seem like he had emotions. This may be the first, and probably last, thing we learn about Carter’s personality.
Aside from opening interesting opportunities for speculation on the psychological make-up of Carter (was this decision about guilt, loyalty, nostalgia?) this also has implications for the overall state of the game. The Auckland signing would have signalled a new era of professionalism in New Zealand rugby, a sort dethroning of the ideal of loyalty in favour of the more quantifiable rewarding dollar. In some ways, that would have been a good thing. Since 1995, rugby has awkwardly shuffled between the ideals of amateurism and the cold-blooded realities of professionalism, leading to an odd hybrid of the two. Sometimes we’re meant to believe these guys are doing it for blood and guts and other times we’re meant to believe it’s OK the game starts late because that’s where the most overseas revenue can be generated. Carter seemed to be calling a spade a spade, acting like a professional and going where the money is. Sure, it would be sad to see the end of franchise loyalty, but at least it was a consistant message. Now we can be happy that Carter is in his natural environment, where he belongs and where he was made. But another part of us will probably remain confused.