SYDNEY (Reuters) - Six months travelling the globe on an A-listers sabbatical have come to an end and on Saturday, Dan Carter will be back doing what he loves best, playing rugby for silverware with the Canterbury Crusaders.
Rubbing shoulders with rock aristocracy at Elton John's Oscar party and a trip to Augusta for the U.S. Masters were among the more glamorous appointments on his grand tour as the All Blacks flyhalf gave his body a well-earned rest.
On Saturday, however, he will be take his place in the defensive line as huge New South Wales Waratahs forwards hurtle towards him in the last match of the southern hemisphere's annual provincial championship season, the Super Rugby final.
Unquestionably one of the greatest players to have graced the game, Carter has scored more test points than anyone else, twice been named international player of the year, won six southern hemisphere titles with New Zealand and four Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders.
It has been six years since his last title with the Crusaders, though, and having missed the final stages of New Zealand's 2011 World Cup triumph with another of the injuries that have beset him, another trophy is due.
"That's why we play the game, to win titles and I've been lucky enough be a part of some great sides that have picked up a few cups and trophies throughout my career," the 32-year-old told reporters on Thursday.
"But for this team, in particular, it's been a few years, so this team's really hungry and excited. We're in the final so we've given ourselves a chance but the hard work is still ahead of us.
"We're up against the form side of the competition, it's going to be a huge challenge for us."
Carter has played four matches at inside centre since returning to the Crusaders squad after the June international break and will retain the number 12 shirt for Saturday's match at the Sydney's Olympic Stadium.
He has already shown that being out of his usual position has not prevented him from directing play and Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said the Waratahs would be foolhardy to target his channel defensively.
"He's just added just so much confidence to the backline and with him being at 12, it means we can have all our best players on the park," he said
"But I've always said it, the difference between anyone else in his position, is his defence. His defence has always been outstanding. We're a lot stronger because of him."
Carter said defending was something he had always enjoyed.
"I've always been probably the smallest player out on the field so there's only one way to learn and that's to go low and tackle," he laughed.
"That's something I work hard on and I guess being moved to second five, that becomes more important. You need the midfielders to lead the way defensively and that's a responsibility I take very seriously."
Carter's reason for taking the sabbatical was to extend his career through next year's World Cup - perhaps even on to the British and Irish Lions tour in 2017 - and he said the indications were that it had been effective.
"At this early stage, I've feel I've really benefited from it and the body feels good," he said.
"Hopefully a break like that will give the body a couple more years. I know mentally, my motivation is a lot higher than it normally is midway through the season, so that's a real positive."
That could be bad news for the Waratahs, as could the nerves he admitted to feeling as another big match approached.
"I get extremely nervous and I quite enjoy it when I have those nerves, it means I'm really excited for a big game," he said.
"I guess I can hide them with my relaxed nature but sure enough when I'm nervous, I'm ready to go, and that's exactly how I'm feeling now."
A self-imposed alcohol ban has helped Carter reach the fitness levels he needed to return to Super Rugby at the business end of the season but he is hoping to break that drought too on Saturday night.
"All going well, I might be able to have a couple at the weekend," he said. "Good chance to sign off by celebrating a good campaign with the boys."
(Editing by John O'Brien)
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