Dan Carter, is undoubtedly one of the greatest fly-halfs of all time.
He can kick, he’s fast, has a lovely pass, a great step and a solid tackle. For many seasons no one would say he was under any pressure for the New Zealand ten jersey. However coming into this World Cup I believe the legendary fly-half is under some strain for the jersey.
Carter has had a steady Rugby Championship, being reliable off the tee and solid in the game. However he hasn’t set the world on fire.
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The Bledisloe Cup final did see a return of the Dan Carter we expect, taking the ball to the gain line, putting his opposite number under pressure, however Quade Cooper was having his own troubles in the game, but Carter was also guilty of several kicks to nothing, wasting penalty advantages and making a few tactical errors. Something that been a bit of a theme for him over the course of the Rugby Championship.
However Steve Hanson has stood by his fly-half and Carter has done nothing to deserve demotion to the bench and if we’re honest we can probably guess the twenty three Hanson has on the cards for the World Cup.
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Probable NZ team:
1. Woodcock 2. Coles 3. O.Franks
4. Rettalick 5. Whitelock
6. Kaino 8. Reade 7. McCaw (Capt)
9. A. Smith 10. Carter
11. Savea 12. Nonu 13. C. Smith 14. B Smith
Bench- 16. Mealamu 17. Crockett 18. Laulala 19. Romano 20. Vito (or Messam)
21. Perenara 22. Barrett 23. Fekitoa
All of these players are in top form however there are also several replacements who deserve to muscle in on some these established player’s positions.
James Broadhurst and Jeremy Thrush have both been excellent in the second row. Victor Vito and Matt Todd have been outstanding in the back row, Nehe Milna-Skudder has been very exciting on the wing, Ben Smith has been more consistent than Dagg at fullback, and finally Ryan Crotty has been in the form of his life for the Crusaders, probably being their most consistent player.
Although in the case of Crotty competition is stiff, with Nonu and Conrad Smith looking ageless and cohesive together all season, Malaki Fekitoa has been one of the Highlanders best players, and Sonny Bill Williams has also played quite well.
The position that sticks out to me however is fly-half. Carter spent the majority of the season playing inside centre with Colin Slade at ten and to be fair to Slade he’s had a phenomenal year in a disappointing mid-table showing for the Crusaders.
Slade has been a breath of life, running great lines, scoring tries and generally being the star of the show. Outside of the Crusaders, Hurricanes Flyhalf Beauden Barrett and Highlands ten Lima Sopoaga have both been playing very well.
Sopoaga received his first cap at the start of the Rugby Championship, to mixed reviews, but Barrett has been limited for a few cameos off the bench, while Colin Slade who I would of said had been the best Flyhalf in the Super Fifteen has made just one bench appearance coming on at fullback in the latter stages of the Bledisloe cup win against the Wallabies.
Now this isn’t to sell short Dan Carter, he has been consistent and has made no major mistakes,
but nor has he been at his best. I would have liked to have seen Slade and Barrett both get a full match under their belts to see what they could do with a New Zealand back-line behind them, considering the form the pair have been in at Super Fifteen.
Slade can cover all positions in the back line from ten to fifteen, but is best at ten with pace, subtlety and accurate kicking, along with a solid defence and great vision, he is very much in the model of Carter but has found his own way in recent season to put the veteran under pressure both with the Crusaders and the All Blacks.
Whereas Barrett brings truly phenomenal speed, an eye for the gap and jinking runs, as well as long range kicks. However his defence and handling of high pressure have been questioned.
It will be interesting to see if the team I put above will be the team that Hanson goes ahead with for the World Cup, it’s tried and tested and will give Dan Carter and co the international send-off they deserves or will it be a Warren Gatland-like surprise with the old favourites being moved aside for in form rivals.