Daniel Carter limping off training grounds has become a
worryingly familiar sight. It never used to happen - Carter,
for most of earlier career, appeared to train and play in
There would be the occasional serious injury - a broken leg
in 2005, the damaged Achilles in 2009 and of course the groin
rip in 2011. But he wasn't an athlete riddled by niggles,
fiddly tight muscles that would pick inopportune moments to
tweak and stiffen.
This year has been different. He tweaked his hamstring during
the second test against Ireland and he missed the third. A
few weeks later he strained his calf and missed the tests
against Argentina and South Africa and now he's in danger of
missing a fourth international due to a leg problem he picked
up at training on Thursday.
No one should unduly fret or see these regular injuries as a
sign that Carter is beginning the slow descent. Only two
weeks ago he was running like a man five years younger,
splitting the Scottish defence and looking incredibly like
the greatest first-five to walk the planet.
His world hasn't collapsed in just two weeks: he's only 30
for goodness sake, the age at which Frank Bunce made his All
Black debut, and there were mitigating circumstances. The
University of South Glamorgan training venue was a peat bog:
all that squelchy, heavy mud and all those highly-toned
muscles - bad mix.
But why did it have to be Carter's leg that gave way? And
that's just the thing - he is what the All Blacks call a red
flag athlete. He remains imminently capable of playing
breathtaking rugby and doing it all the way through to 2015.
But he is also becoming more susceptible to soft tissue
injuries. That's partly his age and partly a consequence of
the punishment his body has taken in a decade of professional
His future now might involve more episodes like these where
he feels a twang or a tweak - that is the sad, inescapable
truth. The big donkeys in the tight five can probably run
blissfully unaware into their mid-30s that they even have
hamstrings and the like, but not the finely crafted, sculpted
works of art like Carter.
A heavy pitch, a cold day and New Zealand's most precious
asset will be susceptible. Maybe its too much rugby. Maybe
Carter needs to be more carefully managed than he already is.
If nature, or the rugby Gods, or whoever it was that kept him
safe up until last year can't do it any more, then maybe its
time for more active strategies to kick in.
How much Super Rugby does he really need to play? The
Crusaders have three first-fives in their squad. Maybe its
time to keep Carter for the biggest games and only a handful
of others? If the All Blacks see a similarly heavy training
field to the one they encountered in Cardiff, maybe they need
to tell Carter to stay on the bus.
It's not ideal and All Black coach Steve Hansen will be loath
to be too precious, to wrap Carter in cotton wool in such an
But what else can he do? Carter's value and importance to the
All Blacks hasn't diminished in the last 12 months. It has,
if anything, only grown and it doesn't get any easier seeing
him limp his way back to the sheds two days out from a major
- By Gregor Paul of the Herald on Sunday in Cardiff