Carter the perfect 10 and Jonny's number is up

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Suddenly, he was confronted by his opposite number, Jonny Wilkinson, who launched himself into the tackle. When the dust settled over the impact zone, Wilkinson could be seen in a heap on the floor. And Carter? He was over the hills and far away, wreaking more havoc as his rival was gently led away by the medical staff.

It was a hugely significant moment. Wilkinson, the man who dropped the goal that won a World Cup for England, had been considered the best outside-half on the planet for the best part of five years - a long reign in rugby union, the most complex and demanding of the games we play. Yes, injuries had cramped his style, but even during the weeks and months when Wilkinson was completely down on his luck, there had still been a lingering suspicion in many minds that his work in the No 10 shirt was more effective than anyone else's.

We can safely forget all about that now, for Carter is the new prince of the position. Who knows? The youngsters in this country who spend every waking hour idolising the All Blacks may abandon their obsession with the wonderful open-side flankers whose names are written in the silver-ferned annals - Red Conway and Waka Nathan, Graham Mourie and Michael Jones and Richie McCaw - and dream about playing stand-off instead. Certainly, there cannot have been a single soul in the Wellington "Cake Tin" yesterday who felt uninspired by a performance sufficiently imaginative in conception and faultless in execution to have amounted to a reinvention.

"Have I ever seen a better display from a No 10? Probably not," agreed Graham Henry, the head coach of the All Blacks and not a man with a reputation for gilding the lily. "For a 23-year-old he was quite outstanding. He kicked his goals, he ran the line, his defence was outstanding, he scored tries, he navigated the ship. Phenomenal."

A few seconds later, Henry was trumped by the dreadlocked dreadnought sitting alongside him. "Dan is our leader," said Tana Umaga, which was quite an accolade from the celebrated centre, given that he is the captain of this exceptional side. "His nous, his kicking game, his awareness... on the field, he's the bloke who makes it happen for us."

Carter is a stand-off with all the talents, and he brought the whole range of them to the party, from A to Z and from one to 100. During the first half, when the Lions were genuinely competitive despite being starved of quality field position, he soothed the waters whipped up by Gareth Thomas' early try with a penalty from the 10 metre line and then re-established New Zealand's clear superiority as an attacking concern by creating a try towards the end of the first quarter.

He took a turnover pass from Umaga deep in his own half, ripped through the cover with a touch of afterburn and saw off weak challenges from Gavin Henson and Shane Williams before repaying the compliment by presenting his skipper with a scoring pass.

Down the years, a zillion outside-halves would have settled for that. They may even have feigned an injury by way of quitting while ahead. Not this character. He hit the spot with penalties either side of the interval and then left the Lions in the sporting equivalent of a hearse by crossing the whitewash himself on 44 minutes.

Again, it was a moment of jaw-dropping brilliance. Posit-ioning himself wide on the right, Carter received a cleverly delayed pass from Rodney So'oialo, the All Black No 8, and slipped the most delicate, perfectly weighted grubber kick past Josh Lewsey before diving on the ball as it neared the in-goal line. If he had taken a crash course in applied mathematics and calculated the strength of the kick with the aid of a table of logarithms, he could not have made a better job of it.

Enough? Not on your life. Three minutes from the end of normal time, he was at it again. From the Lions perspective, it was not the greatest of ideas to allow the All Blacks a three-man overlap against a tiring defence, but even so, Carter's comprehensive defeat of Lewsey with a delightful step off the left foot and a curve away from the covering Shane Williams were the acts of a natural try-scorer.

"He's a special player," conceded Sir Clive Woodward after the match. Special indeed. And he has another decade left to him.

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