Carter: the master of deception
Kiwi flyhalf ’s game is a balance of swagger and grace
WHEN Dan Carter runs out at Twickenham today he will complete a century of caps. The New Zealand No 10 will have his 100.
Flyhalf is rugby’s glamour position and Carter is the sport’s poster boy, the successor to Jonny Wilkinson in the international game. It is a great shame we never saw the pair go head-to-head at their peak but I believe Wilkinson would have had the edge.
The key to stopping the All Blacks is to get Carter. The New Zealand game centres around the No 10, it is the axis off which they run most of their plays so England’s ambition must be to take that link out of the chain.
He is an astute tactician and a master of putting the ball where you are not, so you need to charge the quarterback and “sack” him behind the gain line.
In the same way Roger Federer hovers around a tennis court scarcely breaking a sweat, Carter possesses the same balance of swagger and grace.
The best players create time on the ball and Carter plays in slowmotion, even with a back row closing down on him. His coach Steve Hansen says if he was anymore relaxed he would be asleep.
He is as instinctive a flyhalf as I’ve seen. He has the nerve and poise to invite players up to him, enticing forwards on to him like a matador, knowing he has the passing game to beat them, he can delay his pass and take the hit, or step off either foot to beat them.
Carter beats people because he is lightning quick but also because of how subtly he deceives defenders, creating a gap out of any weakness in a defensive line.
He is a master of deception – he knows how closely a defender will watch him and he uses it against them. It may be as seemingly insignificant as a glance outside him or the smallest drop of his hands to suggest he is going to pass or kick.
But through the corner of his eye he will spot whether or not a defender followed this charade, he’ll sense that momentary doubt and because of his acceleration he’ll be gone. Do not look at his eyes, look at the centre of his chest and belt him.
The All Blacks make around eight clean breaks per game and he is so often the catalyst. If he ghosts through a defence, he will offload or pass to put the second man away; if his forwards win a turnover he relishes the mismatch on the counter attack. His distribution skills are unrivalled and his lines of running off the set piece are so difficult to anticipate.
As a professional game, rugby is still in its infancy and Carter has evolved tactically with the law changes, kicking more when referees favour defence and running more when the game’s structure favours attack.
He is no stranger to gym work, his core muscles are so developed he can stand on a gym ball and throw spin passes while keeping his balance.
As a five-year-old he learned the game at scrumhalf and he began his professional career at inside centre, so he has an intimate understanding of the key roles in the backline which makes him so sharp at scanning for space.
There is no doubt his development has been helped by playing behind an All Black pack that is so frequently on the front foot, and inside a world-class centre pairing in Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith.
The first time I saw him up close was during England’s tour of 2004. He was an inside centre who had only played once but he finished both Tests with a perfect haul of 13 successful kicks and scored a try. Yet it was his reaction to a stamp from Danny Grewcock that caught my eye.
Instead of turning on Grewcock he said afterwards: “I was on the wrong side of a ruck and probably shouldn’t have been there.”
I was very impressed by the young man’s dignity.
My real experience of Carter was the 2005 Lions tour when he announced himself as one of the best players of the modern era.
His display in the second Test – where his second-half haul of 22 points alone still stands as a recordbreaking performance against the Lions – was one of the most polished and accomplished I have seen from a player.
He nearly scored a hat-trick of tries, he collected his chips, he stepped players and his passing was electric.
In one of the greatest All Black teams in history – including the likes of Tana Umaga, Mils Muliaina, Richie McCaw – he was the star of the side.
It was horrible to be on the receiving end.
Carter’s personality is key to his success. He comes from a small town of Southbridge on the Canterbury Plains with a population of less than 800 and 250-odd houses and his closest friends remain those from home.
He attended Canterbury Boys’ High whose school match against local rivals Christ’s College is televised and the school’s alumni include All Blacks Andrew Mehrtens, Aaron Mauger and Colin Slade.
As a child he wanted to be a superhero and loved to dress up in costume but now the All Black jersey has become his cape.
Carter changes on the pitch, it is a theatrical transformation and he relishes the leading role. Much like Wilkinson, the humble, courteous, quiet man becomes an aggressive winner.
On his eighth birthday his parents Neville and Bev, a builder and school teacher, built a full-size set of rugby posts in the land behind his garden, it was his “best present ever”. “Mum used to drag me in for dinner because I loved kicking goals until it was dark.”
It is not just his training ethic that matches Wilkinson, but his character. They are both very articulate men, students of the game who do not chase the spotlight.
He has lucrative commercial deals – the tower- block poster of him in boxer shorts were difficult to miss all over Auckland during the 2011 World Cup – but there is no resentment from his teammates because they know it is secondary to what he does on the pitch.
Do that the wrong way round and players will
‘As a child he wanted to be a superhero and loved to dress up in costume but now the All Black jersey has become his cape.’
turn on you.
The one area Wilkinson stands clearly ahead of Carter is in defence. Wilkinson stopped people running down his channel because of his brutal tackling, but Carter lacks that defensive savagery.
The All Black is technically accu- rate and will make his tackles – but he will not knock people back. If England send Billy Vunipola and Courtney Lawes down his channel then they can offload and bring momentum to an attack.
New Zealand kick more than any other team and Carter has an amazing array of kicking skills off either foot – grubbers, chips, long-distance, cross-field balls. They are used first and foremost as attacking weapons rather than a defensive get- out option.
The only bad game I have ever seen Carter play was in this fixture last year.
His preparation was all wrong. In the build-up he seemed to be all over London, at landmarks and pop concerts. I had never seen that before.
This year the All Blacks had Wednesday off and he spent his evening practising his kicking until sunset.
With Aaron Cruden in scintillating form, this is the first time Carter is under genuine pressure for his shirt. He will relish that pressure. He missed out on the knockout stages of his home World Cup with a groin injury and remains determined to lead New Zealand at Twickenham in two years’ time.
Today will serve as a prologue. – Daily Mail
100 NOT OUT: All Blacks’ Dan Carter has evolved tactically with the game’s law changes, and would want a win over England as the cherry on top of his being capped for the 100th time in Test rugby today.