Rugby: Carter's off day brings year to a close

Dan Carter of New Zealand leaves the field after defeat during the QBE International match between England and New Zealand at Twickenham Stadium. Photo by Getty.
Dan Carter of New Zealand leaves the field after defeat during the QBE International match between England and New Zealand at Twickenham Stadium. Photo by Getty.
OPINION: Dan Carter wasn't the worst All Black at Twickenham on a day New Zealand rugby got a kick up the backside, but he was nowhere near his best and it brings to an end a curious year for him.

Injured for much of the Crusaders season, he played second-five on his return, but, handed the playmaker role for the semifinal against the Chiefs at Hamilton, he hardly fired a shot in his team's loss.

It was a performance eerily similar to his one in the 38-21 defeat to England on Sunday. He was off-target with his goalkicking and defence and never got his running game going.

Every player is entitled to an off day, although world class players such as Carter have them less often than most. But it's worth looking back over the No10's year, his last before he becomes a father - which will bring a whole new set of challenges.

Now that we can see it in its entirety it has a new complexion and there might even be a lesson or two in it for All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.

Carter's best moments came in the black jersey, no question, and they are what forced his name on to the IRB player of the year shortlist.

His drop goal in the dying seconds against Ireland in Christchurch in June allowed the All Blacks to avoid a first ever loss to the men in green. However, he had the chance to clinch a dramatic victory in a similar fashion against Australia in Brisbane only to see his kick sail wide and the Wallabies celebrate a draw. Most assumed it would be the only blemish on the All Blacks' year.

In the Rugby Championship he was solid for a team a long way ahead of the chasing pack.

On this year's northern tour he didn't play against Italy - Aaron Cruden was given a go - but the 30-year-old was outstanding against Scotland the following week. An early blip (intercept pass, try for Scotland) was largely forgotten in a display reminiscent of what he considers the pinnacle of his career - the 2006 series against the Lions.

However, Scotland's ability was put into stark relief a couple of weeks later when they lost to Tonga, a result which dropped them to 12th on the IRB world rankings and forced coach Andy Robinson's resignation.

A week after the All Blacks victory at Murrayfield, Carter pulled out of the Wales match due to an Achilles injury, but he was determined to play against England at Twickenham.

In explaining the shock loss to England, Hansen said Carter was fit to play, but it seems to be case in which the pivot was given too much leeway.

The All Blacks coach sees Carter as an automatic selection, if fit, which is fair given what he has achieved in the game since making his debut in 2003. He has since become one of the best players to pull on an All Blacks jersey.

But the England result proved no assumptions can be made about Carter or anything. The injuries - Achilles, groin, hamstring, calf, Achilles again - are becoming more common and Cruden must be regarded as a viable option for Carter, even for the biggest of tests, if there is any question over his form or fitness. Especially his fitness.