Peter Bills: New Zealand are over reliant on Dan Carter

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The Independent Online

New Zealand may be playing the most attractive rugby in the world right now. And they may have riches available in terms of their midfield players.

Take your pick from these four stunning talents for the No’s 12 and 13 in the All Blacks team this year – Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu of the Wellington Hurricanes, Sonny Bill Williams and Robbie Fruean of the Canterbury Crusaders. Some choice!

South Africa can’t get anywhere near matching that quartet of skill and quality. If either Jean de Villiers or Jaque Fourie loses form or fitness, the gap will be felt in the Springboks side. Juan de Jongh is an immensely talented young player but he lacks experience.

But there is one position where, in my view, the South Africans have been much smarter than the New Zealanders. The Springboks have a proven back up to Morne Steyn in the No. 10 jersey. New Zealand doesn’t have, for Dan Carter in the All Blacks’ side.

If anything serious happens to Carter, just before or during the Rugby World Cup later this year, then all bets are off as regards the All Blacks winning it. His loss would be disastrous for New Zealand because there just isn’t anyone ready to step up and fill the role.

The All Blacks have tried the Waikato Chiefs pair Stephen Donald and Mike Delaney plus Ben Cruden (Wellington Hurricanes) at No. 10, all without conspicuous success. Donald just isn’t a Test player and Cruden seems to have gone backwards. Delaney does some good things but hardly strikes you as true international class.

So all New Zealand can only hope and pray that nothing happens to Carter. For if he were injured and forced to miss vital games New Zealand would have a problem of monumental proportions. No-one in all New Zealand can manage a game the way Carter does it.

They’ve got themselves to blame, in part at least, for that state of affairs. Someone should have been earmarked long ago as clear back-up to Carter. That player should have been given regular run-outs in the Test team, especially when the All Blacks played weaker opposition.

The reality is that New Zealand’s best back-up outside half, or first five eight as the Kiwis call it, is playing his rugby in London. Nick Evans became disillusioned with waiting for a Test slot with Carter around and defected to Harlequins two years ago. He won’t go back and the All Blacks won’t pick him for the World Cup because he’s playing his rugby overseas. It’s the old argument.

By contrast and commendably so, South Africa has done exactly what New Zealand has failed to do. They have successfully guided Patrick Lambie into the world of Test match rugby, and it has been done cleverly and effectively. So much so that some now believe that the Springboks would be a more potent attacking force if Lambie started at No. 10.

Under conservative coach Peter de Villiers, that won’t happen, not in the big games in the World Cup, anyway. But it must be an enormous confidence booster to the entire Springboks management that they have so talented a back-up No. 10 in their squad.

Lambie, as he has shown with the Sharks in Super 15 rugby, is a very skilful player. He looks a real all-round footballer to me, a guy who can direct a game, kick well for position and to the posts as well as launch a back line.

Right now I can tell you, the All Blacks coaching staff would give their eye teeth to have as good a player as Lambie in their squad as Carter’s deputy. All their eggs are in one basket and that could be dangerous come World Cup time.