Carter the All Black pilot plays on a higher plane
Sunday 07 November 2010
There are times when Dan Carter seems to be taking a walk in, say, Hagley Park in his native Christchurch. Only this was an international match, with 80,000 watching to see if he would slip, taking with him New Zealand's hopes of a grand-slam tour of Britain.
The All Black fly-half is wonderful to watch, so insouciant until an eruptionof energy is needed and the scoreboard ticks over. No one, least of all Carter himself, would say he is infallible; as England tried to force a hole in the defence in the final quarter, he was penalised for obstructing Mark Cueto.He then slapped a drop-out straight into touch.
Before kick-off he was averaging just below 19 points in eight appearances against the white jerseys; he managed only 16 points here but he was still named man of the match. It is worth noting that after three of England's four scores, the next man on the scoresheet was Carter.
England knew all this before the first of their four November Tests and still Carter, 28, could stroll in the park. In part this is because he is the best player in his position in the world, in part because he is a member of rugby's best machine. Not that New Zealand are robotic, far from it, but they know where they should be, as ball handlers and support players, and it takes a better team than England to knock them outof their stride.
Take the comparison between Carter and Toby Flood, his opposite number. In the opening minutes, Carter seemed not to be part of the same game: Flood received the ball five times to Carter's one and there was an urgency about the Englishman as his side demonstrated that they had come to play.
But Flood is still aiming at the status that Carter enjoys, which could even take him on this tour past the world record for international points, held by England's Jonny Wilkinson. He now stands on 1,143, 35 behind Wilkinson, who will not play in this month's Tests.
Watch how Carter so seldom puts a colleague into anything other than space; consider the confidence his presence must bring to an international novice such as Alby Mathewson, his scrum-half. Carter, in his 76th game, made it easy for Mathewson, playing his third. The only surprise was that Carter missed his first kick at goal, a 27-metre penalty.
In that respect, Flood lacked nothing by comparison. The Leicester hinge of Flood and Ben Youngs has still to find its way on the international stage and Flood missed only one kick at goal too. But where he was like a greyhound straining at the leash, Carter was like a moving staircase, carrying the game forward with overwhelming inevitability.
He can be a deadly runner too. Working off Ma'a Nonu, Carter glided away from Youngs and from his offload New Zealand made the inroads which led to Kieran Read's try. He will also get his hands dirty: at the other end, as England launched their first meaningful assault, Carter's tackle on Cueto broke the home side's attacking rhythm.
There is far greater strength in that slim frame than first appears. When England laid violent hands on him, as he stooped to gather a poor pass from Sonny Bill Williams in the first minute of the second half, he was able to lay the ball back and buy his side time to clear.
Nor was there any prospect of Carter's removal on the hour, which happened when New Zealand lost to Australia in Hong Kong eight days ago. On that occasion Graham Henry, the All Blacks' head coach, was anxious to give Stephen Donald decent time on the pitch in a game with nothing but pride hanging on the result. In contrast, Twickenham represented the first leg of a potential slam.
Time is what Carter is about. Time on the ball, timing of the tackle, timing of the pass – as when his little switch found Mils Muliaina hurtling up on the inside and it took wonderful anticipation by Chris Ashton to deny New Zealand a try.In the hurly-burly of the international game, time is of the essence. Carter seems to have all he needs.
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