While the rest of the world is focussing on Dan Carter’s progress in Europe, back in New Zealand Stephen Brett is quietly preparing to once again step up and fill the void left by the All Black flyhalf’s departure.
He spoke, exclusively, to rugby365′s Jan de Koning about his comeback from injury and the defending Super 14 champions, the Crusaders.
It won’t be the first time the talented 23-year-old utility back, Brett, will be required to step in when Carter is absent.
Carter missed the first half of the 2007 Super 14 season, while on a conditioning programme with the All Blacks, and this year Carter also missed the entire Air New Cup season.
It was during the first seven rounds of last year’s Super 14 series, while the All Blacks were on their pre-World Cup conditioning programme, that Brett showed his true worth – earning a call-up to the Junior All Blacks (ostensibly New Zealand’s second best team).
However, injuries have curtailed his progress in 2008, when he was expected to kick on and earn his first Test cap.
First there was a shoulder injury in March, which sidelined him for more than a month of Super 14 actions. Brett then made his New Zealand Maori debut against Fiji in the Pacific Nations Cup tournament in June, but injury again cut short his campaign.
Quad and calf problems also limited his appearances during Canterbury’s successful Air New Zealand Cup campaign this year and afterwards he had surgery to both knees to clean up cartilage tears.
But now he is working his way back to full fitness, hoping to fulfil the potential he first showed as a New Zealand Under-21 representative in 2006.
Speaking about his run of injuries, Brett said he is confident of having an extended run when the Super 14 gets underway in February.
“I had injury problems, which I’ve hopefully put behind me now,” he told rugby365.com, minutes before setting off on his first run after recovering from surgery.
“I have been doing gym work and a lot of cycling … and in about two minutes I’ll be going on my first run,” Brett added.
He made it clear that Carter’s absence won’t alter his approach to the game.
“You’ve still got to do the training and preparation, and I’ve stepped into those [Carter's] shoes before.”
Brett admitted that having missed out on All Black selection is something he hopes to rectify next year.
“My personal goal is to get on the field and play,” he said, adding: “My long term goal is to make the All Blacks.”
As defending champions and seven-times winners of the Super Rugby crown, the Crusaders will obviously be a target for other teams next year.
“Every year we’re seen as the top dogs and every team wants to knock us off,” Brett told rugby365.com.
“It makes us grow as individuals. We prepare thoroughly for every opponent, with our analysis and conditioning, but in the end we concentrate on what we’re doing, rather than the opposition.”
While he has not participated in the full pre-season programme, Brett said training is going well.
“Performance co-ordinator Ashley Jones is working the boys very hard.
“The goal is obviously to get us into the best condition possible and we have been doing hill repeat runs, speed and power work and weights, but also skill work and things like mountain-biking, boxing, water polo, yoga, pilates – along with a variety of other stuff.
“We have been training for just over two weeks and already you can see a lot of improvement in everyone’s fitness.”
It is not just Carter that is missing from the Crusaders make-up next year.
Robbie Deans, a five-times winner with the Crusaders, has become the first New Zealander to coach the Wallabies and Todd Blackadder has taken over the duties of head coach at the Crusaders.
But Brett is confident this will not have a major impact on the team’s performances.
“The team’s goals are to have a successful season under the new coaching regime and to make their jobs easier by playing well.
“We want to uphold the traditions of the Crusaders and make our community and all our supporters around New Zealand and the world proud of us.”
Brett, who can play at either first five-eighths (No.10) or second five eighths (No.12), earned the distinction of finishing as leading points scorer for the Crusaders (90 points) and Canterbury (149) in 2007.
He will now look to repeat that form in 2009.Tweet