Carter to undergo surgery after kicking Kiwis to Tri-Nations glory

South Africa 22 New Zealand 29
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The Independent Online

New Zealand fly-half Daniel Carter will be out of action for up to eight weeks after being told he needs surgery on a troublesome right ankle injury.

Carter has carried the injury throughout the Tri-Nations, which New Zealand won with a game to spare on Saturday thanks to a 29-22 victory over world champions South Africa.

"Given that movement in my foot is being affected, it's obviously in my best interests to have the surgery now,"Carter said yesterday.

That's bad news for the home nations as it means he should be fit again by the time the Autumn internationals roll round. Carter, New Zealand's all-time leading points scorer, will miss the All Blacks final Tri-Nations match against Australia in Sydney on 11 September but should be fit for the tours of Hong Kong and Europe. The All Blacks face Australia in Hong Kong on 30 October before facing England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales on consecutive weekends from 7 November.

The Canterbury Crusader will undergo surgery in Christchurch to remove loose material from around the joint, which was beginning to affect the strength in his calf muscle.

The 28-year-old slotted four penalties and a conversion in Saturday's victory at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, the All Blacks' fifth win in as many matches in the tournament as they claimed a 10th Tri-Nations title in 15 years.

New Zealand coach Graham Henry said: "Dan is the ultimate rugby professional when it comes to injury rehabilitation and, with the help of the All Blacks medical staff, he will be getting the best treatment possible and we look forward to his return to rugby."

South Africa captain John Smit, playing his 100th Test, put the blame on himself for their last-gasp 29-22 loss to the All Blacks that allowed the visitors to clinch the title.

The Springboks led 22-17 with two minutes left. But New Zealand captain Richie McCaw levelled with a try before the hosts turned over possession from the kick-off, allowing centre Ma'a Nonu to make the break that led to Israel Dagg's match-winning try.

"At 22-22, the plan was to have a crack with ball in hand and get [flyhalf and expert drop goal-kicker] Morne Steyn into the pocket," Smit said. "But we suffered a turnover and I then missed a tackle and that was game over."

The hooker said his team felt in control in the first half but failed to get into gear after the break as New Zealand dominated possession and forced the South Africans into energy-sapping defence for phase after phase.

"In the first half I felt we were really in control, we were getting the kicking metres with our kicks, they were accurate, we were getting a return from them and we knew when to kick in terms of decision-making," Smit said.

"But in the second half, we gave away a couple of penalties and then missed touch and those things always cost you. When we lost control of our own game, we lost the match."

However, Springbok coach Peter de Villiers felt his captain was being too hard on himself and refused to criticise him. "I think John is taking it too personally. I think this team showed that on any given day, if they dictate territory and possession, they can beat any team on any day.

"But we just went a bit out of our structure, we didn't keep the ball. We fell into defensive mode, even though we defended well. The loss is so painful, but I took a lot of heart from our performance," De Villiers added.

Smit said playing in front of such a large crowd on the day he became only the second Springbok and their first forward to play 100 Tests had been an emotional experience.

"We have some good venues in this country but this has been one of the best I have played in anywhere. There was such a din when I ran out first, I was struggling not to choke up.

"And then when the All Blacks did the haka, we were standing 10 metres away but we couldn't hear a single word," Smit said.

De Villiers said his team could draw confidence from the fact they were just two minutes from beating the All Blacks, whose win clinched the Tri-Nations title with a match to spare.

"We need to do the things we do well for the full 80 minutes and confidence is part of that story, too. There were several youngsters who really stepped up today and they can draw a lot of confidence from that.

"But it's like a funeral in the dressing room and I'm aware that losing can become a habit, just like winning," he added.

The defending champion Springboks lost all three matches in New Zealand and Australia before suffering their first defeat by the All Blacks in Johannesburg in 13 years.