‘I’ll never be fully sat­is­fied. You can al­ways get bet­ter.’

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - CHRIS FOY

THE world re­alised just how good he could be on July 2, 2005. That was the night Dan Carter el­e­vated the artistry, ac­cu­racy and fe­roc­ity of supreme fly­half play to a new di­men­sion.

It was once said of Nick Faldo that he had con­quered golf – he had beaten the game. Well, against the Lions in Welling­ton four years ago, Carter seemed to con­quer rugby.

The majesty of his per­for­mance was as­ton­ish­ing. It de­fied be­lief at times. Two years af­ter his in­ter­na­tional de­but, he touched the stars.

An early try by Gareth Thomas had given Sir Clive Wood­ward’s team the lead, but then the All Blacks’ per­fect 10 re­duced them to rub­ble. Carter sup­plied the spark and the fire­works as the hosts ran riot.

He reg­is­tered two tries, five penal­ties and four con­ver­sions for a 33-point per­sonal haul which smashed the pre­vi­ous Test record of 18 by a New Zealan­der against the Lions.

Yet, even the re­mark­able num­bers don’t do jus­tice to his ef­forts. What caught the eye was the cer­tainty and con­vic­tion about ev­ery­thing he did, the to­tal be­lief in his skills – the pass­ing, kick­ing, tackling, run­ning. ev­ery­thing clicked, ev­ery­thing came off.

There was an added poignancy to Carter’s tour de force as it came in the only match where he has faced Jonny Wilkin­son di­rectly.

Eng­land’s World Cup-winning hero had played at in­side cen­tre the week be­fore in Christchurch and in­jury kept him out of not only the last Test in Auck­land, but also so many other clashes with the All Blacks. What hap­pened in Welling­ton sug­gested a chang­ing of the guard.

There was a sense that Wilkin­son’s reign as the sport’s global icon was at an end and that the coun­try boy from Can­ter­bury had emerged as a dar­ling for the next gen­er­a­tion.

One im­age cap­tured the theme per­fectly, as Carter brushed aside his ri­val and was pic­tured racing clear, leav­ing Wilkin­son flat on the turf, clutch­ing at his vapour trail.

There have been so many mem­o­rable per­for­mances since, but even Carter con­cedes that the stun­ning dis­play in the West­pac Sta­dium re­mains his per­sonal bench­mark.

The alarm­ing news for Eng­land is that he is sure he can trump it.

“That would be right up there in terms of play­ing abil­ity,” he said of his Lion-tam­ing feat.

“You al­ways want to look for the per­fect game. I still think I can play bet­ter and I want to put in a good per­for­mance this week­end.

“I’ve been pretty happy with my rugby since com­ing back from my Achilles in­jury, but I don’t want to get com­pla­cent, I want to keep im­prov­ing.

“I was happy with how I played in Wales but I can im­prove on that. I don’t think I ever will be fully sat­is­fied. You can al­ways get bet­ter.”

What is even more omi­nous for Eng­land is that the All Blacks’ mas­ter con­duc­tor, who they face at Twick­en­ham to­day, is par­tic­u­larly revved up for action af­ter serv­ing a one match ban – his first ever – for a high tackle on Wales scrumhalf Martin Roberts.

“If any­thing it makes you more mo­ti­vated to go out and play this week­end af­ter a week­end off,” he added. “I am fresh and ready to go.”

Pressed for self-as­sess­ment, Carter ar­gues he is a more com­plete player th­ese days be­cause of his ex­pe­ri­ence and sta­tus as a se­nior squad mem­ber with added re­spon­si­bil­ity.

But, in truth, he didn’t look far short of be­ing the fin­ished ar­ti­cle from the mo­ment he made his in­ter na­tional de­but.

He was a 21-year-old with a hand­ful of ap­pear­ances for Can­ter­bury when the All Blacks picked him at in­side cen­tre for their match against Wales in Hamil­ton on June 21, 2003.

In a ducks-to-wa­ter ar­rival he scored a try and kicked six con­ver­sions and a penalty to pro­pel his side to a 55-3 victory. In a flash, New Zealand had a new poster-boy.

Like Wilkin­son, one of Carter’s strengths is the re­mark­able con­sis­tency which has seen him surge to within range of 1,000 Test points at the age of 27. He has rarely had an off-day – it is more a case of judg­ing his per­for­mances on a slid­ing scale be­tween good and ex­cep­tional.

Fit­ness per­mit­ting, he will one day be­come the world’s all-time lead­ing points scorer, and, such is the pun­ish­ing na­ture of the mod­ern game, he may set records that will never be bro­ken.

As many of the great fly halves state on th­ese pages, it is im­pos­si­ble to make wa­ter­tight com­par­isons be­tween play­ers from dif­fer­ent ages, but it is rea­son- able to draw cer­tain con­clu­sions none­the­less.

Play­ing solely in the pro­fes­sional era, he has been forced to op­er­ate against for midable de­fen­sive struc­tures, yet he has made a mess of most of them.

In an era when goal-kick­ing No 10s are drilled un­til they land the vast ma­jor­ity of their kicks in all weather, un­der all sorts of pres­sure, he has ticked that box too.

Stand-offs are no longer al­lowed to shirk their tackling du­ties and he holds the line with as­sur­ance against all­com­ers.

So, while there is no way of gaug­ing pre­cisely his creative abil­ity com­pared to that of, say, Barry John or Michael Ly­nagh, the de­mands of the mod­ern game mean he is surely a bet­ter all­rounder.

Wilkin­son stands apart as the sole true chal­lenger to­day, but the English­man’s gifts are more chan­nelled. He is a de­struc­tive de­fender and phe­nom­e­nal kicker, but, as a vi­sion­ary play­maker and run­ning threat, Carter is com­fort­ably ahead in de­liv­er­ing more or less the com­plete pack­age. So is he the great­est of them all? There can be no sci­en­tific cer­tainty, but, on the bal­ance of ev­i­dence, the an­swer is yes. – The Daily Mail

GLOBAL ICON: Jonny Wilkin­son.

CREATIVE GE­NIUS: Michael Ly­nagh.


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