Canterbury - All Blacks flyhalf Daniel Carter made his return to rugby after a six-month sabbatical on Saturday, playing 40 minutes in a lower-level club match in rural Canterbury.
The 32-year-old world leading points scorer set up two tries and kicked two conversions in the cameo for his childhood club Southbridge against Glenmark in a match played roughly 50km south of Christchurch.
He did not appear for the second half to the disappointment of the large crowd who had turned up to watch him make his long-awaited comeback.
Carter had been granted the six-month sabbatical by the New Zealand Rugby Union as part of his contract that expires at the end of 2015.
Carter, like All Blacks captain Richie McCaw last year, chose to take a six-month break from all rugby to have ankle surgery and try to recover from niggling injuries in an attempt to ensure he would be fit for next year's World Cup in England.
He had not played since he limped off 26 minutes into his 100th test match, against England at Twickenham last November, just one of a series of injuries that have restricted his appearances for the All Blacks in the last three years.
Carter's All Blacks team mates are due to play England in the second test of their three-match series later on Saturday in Dunedin.
Local media reported Carter had shown some of the touches that have prompted pundits to call him arguably the best flyhalf in world rugby though was also visibly short of match fitness and out of breath during periods of the game.
He is expected to rejoin his Super Rugby franchise the Canterbury Crusaders after the international break, though it is still unclear whether he will turn out for them before the playoffs.
The Crusaders have three regular season games remaining and lead the New Zealand conference on 41 points.
Injuries notwithstanding, Carter is expected to be named in the All Blacks squad for the Rugby Championship and take part in the “match of three halves” on August 8.
McCaw made his return to the New Zealand team in similar circumstances where the All Blacks play half a game each against two provincial sides as a final warmup before the annual southern hemisphere competition.
The two provincial sides then play each other for 40 minutes.
This year they will face North Harbour and Northland at North Harbour Stadium in Auckland on Aug. 8 before they meet the Wallabies in their Rugby Championship opener in Sydney on August 16. - Reuters