Carter leaves the grand design in shreds

New Zealand 48 Lions 18 (Half-time: 21-13)
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The Independent Online

At the Westpac Stadium, more popularly known as the "Cake Tin", the Lions weren't as half-baked as they had been in the 21-3 defeat in the First Test in Christchurch, but despite giving everything in a ferocious contest they were forced to play second fiddle to a formidable team who have, in Carter, a man who can guide them to World Cup glory in France in two years' time.

Carter scored 33 points, including two tries in a second half that was the stuff of legend. "I'm fortunate to witness what Carter gets up to," Tana Umaga, the All Blacks' captain said. "He runs the show and he loves it. Who knows what can happen from here."

Get Carter? Get real. The Lions, who made 11 changes, four of them positional, from the nightmare in Christchurch, tried their hardest to level the series but with conditions more conducive to the All Blacks' running game, they were outscored by five tries to two.

Sir Clive Woodward, who had thrown everything into this tour, wore his bravest face afterwards, insisting it had been a "successful trip". "I don't regret anything I have done," he said. "If we had got our game absolutely right, we could have won. We lost to an outstanding New Zealand team and I'm extremely proud of every one of my players. There's nothing more we could have done. We can hold our heads high."

Not as high as the All Blacks, who in Tests against the Lions now lead 28-6. The Lions may have the power of four (although it is really three because there wasn't a Scotsman in sight yesterday), but New Zealand are able to recruit some very big hitters indeed from the Pacific Islands. It gives them a considerable edge in power and pace.

Woodward said that probably the best way of beating the All Blacks in their own back yard would be to base his best 22 players in Melbourne, wrap them up in cotton wool and jet them over to New Zealand purely for the Tests. "That would be the best approach if a tour was just about winning, but I believe in the Lions' ethos. We've got some lessons to learn but not as many as people think. I wanted to give everyone a fair chance. Preparing the team has been difficult. In four years' time I'll look forward to seeing how my successor will do."

The Lions got off to a sensational start when, in the second minute, Gareth Thomas, taking a pass from Wilkinson at a ruck, cut inside on a great angle to beat Keven Mealamu, Chris Jack and Mils Muliaina for a try at the posts. A few minutes later a Wilkinson penalty rebounded off an upright and by half time the All Blacks, after a pulsating half, had opened up a 21-13 lead. When Thomas lost possession on a Lions attack, Carter and Umaga combined brilliantly in a 75-yard counter-attack that ended in the captain scoring their first try in the 17th minute. Their second was the result of a marvellous pass off the ground by Aaron Mauger and the beneficiary was Sitiveni Sivivatu, who smashed through Shane Williams.

During the interval Graham Henry, the New Zealand coach, banged on about improving their defence, the importance of scoring early and raising the tempo. Within a couple of minutes all his prayers were answered. Carter's first try came after a one-handed offload by Umaga - their ability to keep the ball alive under the most intense pressure was a major factor - but he still had to put in a visionary grubber kick to beat the full-back Josh Lewsey.

The Lions had to make 153 tackles, 39 of them by Lewis Moody and Simon Easterby, who with Ryan Jones formed a back row that was a huge improvement on the First Test. Even so, it takes some going to keep up with Richie McCaw, the All Blacks' open-side.

There was a seminal moment in the 58th minute when Carter beat off an attempted tackle by Wilkinson, who had already received treatment to a shoulder hurt while tackling Umaga. This time Wilkinson went off in a scene distressingly familiar in his illustrious career, with an injury described as a "stinger". He's had it before and it leaves him feeling numb.

Woodward said that Wilkinson seemed to be OK but it is another worry. Should he have brought him on this tour after he had barely played in 18 months? No. In Christchurch, at centre, Wilkinson, according to Woodward, was "outstanding"; here he was "tremendous". Wilkinson is not the player he was and has been lapped by Carter and then some.

The Lions' supporters, who drowned out the haka with their chants, gave Wilkinson a sympathetic round of applause when he came off. When Carter left the field a minute before time the New Zealand supporters rose to him.

"Carter is special and New Zealand are very lucky to have him," Woodward said. Asked about Carter, Moody refused to be star struck. Yes, he's a great player, but so was Wilkinson. "I've seen him at his best," Moody said, but he was referring to Jonny in the past tense.

Carter, on the other hand, talked about "building a base for the future, towards the 2007 World Cup." This is a competition that, apart from the first one, on their own territory in 1987, the All Blacks have always got wrong. Henry and his men are on the case.

"I'm looking forward to the future," Henry said. "We played some outstanding rugby, at times quite phenomenal. This was a top display. We showed character and composure when we were under pressure. I don't know if we can play much better than that. It's a great feeling to win in that manner showing that sort of class."

The Lions stemmed the second half onslaught when Easterby powered over on the short side, but then Carter scored his second try with a mesmerising run after the anonymous Gavin Henson had been replaced. Typically, the All Blacks rubbed salt into the Lions' wounds when McCaw crashed over from a driving maul. This from a pack that the Lions were supposed to tame.

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