All Black first five Dan Carter charges upfield with
teammates in support during the test against Scotland at
Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh. Photo Getty
Europe is thick with pretenders yet none of the
first-fives hoping to steal Dan Carter's crown are likely to
usurp the king. Not in the near future anyway.
The likes of Wales, Ireland, Argentina, England and even
South Africa must have pondered what different rugby forces
they would be should they have access to Carter.
He was the man who set the All Blacks alight in Edinburgh;
the man who elevated the All Blacks from functional to
outstanding at times during their 51-22 slaughter of
The first five-eighth talent on show throughout the opening
weekend of November tests was quite dismally underwhelming.
Rhys Priestland was indecisive and inaccurate for Wales;
Johnny Sexton of Ireland will have to check with teammates
whether he really did play; Nicolas Sanchez of Argentina
dropped more passes than goals; and Pat Lambie would have
been excellent had the object of the game been to boot the
ball aimlessly up in the air. Toby Flood can't be judged
properly in a 50-point rout of Fiji.
Carter was refreshingly excellent - as good as he's been in
ages. The barometer of his form and general fitness is his
running game: when that is on, it means he's in the mental
zone and the body is limber - telling him he's still young,
still got it.
That much was obvious at Murrayfield where twice in 30
seconds he coasted through a Scottish defensive line that
made the cardinal sin of being sluggish off the mark. Carter
only needed a sniff and he was away.
"If you give a guy like that time and space then he will pull
the strings,'' reckoned Scotland coach Andy Robinson.
"He is a fantastic rugby player and the quality he has of
getting you into a rhythm as if he is going to pass the ball,
then he takes a hold of you and he just sucks you into it.
He'll pass, pass, pass and then suddenly he goes [runs] and
that is the quality of the man and when he breaks the line,
the team normally scores from it.''
It wasn't just his running, though, that elevated him so
obviously ahead of the other international 10s on show. The
decision-making was effortless and immaculate. His goal
kicking was near perfect and he took control of his
inexperienced midfield and guided them through the encounter.
"Pretty handy with the ball and pretty handy with the boot,''
said All Black coach Steve Hansen.
"About the only thing he did wrong you could say was to give
them an intercept try, but really that was a reflection about
how he was taking the ball to the line and I thought he
caused them a lot of problems when he did that.''
Carter is back to something approximating his best which is
unlikely to help the British Lions prospects of either
Priestland or Flood.
How, when Wales and England respectively clash with the All
Blacks, could either of these two look good when compared
with Carter? They don't have his range. They don't have his
vision or innate understanding of how to dismantle an
This tour is shaping up as affirmation that Carter is King
and the pretenders, those touted as potential heirs apparent,
are really more court jesters.
- By Gregor Paul of the Herald on Sunday in Edinburgh