Time to let Cruden stamp his mark

ON THE CUSP: Aaron Cruden is seen by many as the long-term heir to Dan Carter.
ON THE CUSP: Aaron Cruden is seen by many as the long-term heir to Dan Carter.

In Manawatu, the discussion about who should wear the All Black No 10 jersey is coloured by a distinct green-and-white tinge.

Parochialism tends to trump objectivity, with most armchair selectors calling for Palmerston North's Aaron Cruden to take the reins from veteran superstar Daniel Carter.

However, as Carter limped from the field at Twickenham at the weekend, exiting his 100th test after 25 minutes to end a season ravaged by injury, it wasn't just people with green buckets on their heads thinking it is time for the curtain to come down on his wonderful career.

As much as New Zealand's rugby public would love to see Carter return to the peak of his phenomenal powers, time is an opponent that no player can outrun. It has caught up with him, and is slowly clawing him to the turf in front of our eyes.

As it does, the stature, confidence and class of his understudy Cruden is approaching full bloom. The young man is stepping out of the master's shrinking shadow and the nation is daring to utter the words that would have been anathema only a year or two ago: Carter is no longer the best first-five in New Zealand.

Many will still disagree with that assessment, and the debate is far from closed. Even the most fervent believers in Carter's magic must accept, though, that his goal of making it to the 2015 Rugby World Cup is looking more and more like a pipe dream.

If that is accepted, the argument to pass the baton to Cruden becomes ever more compelling. If the All Blacks are to defend their world crown, there is no place for sentimentality or nostalgia. If Carter has little hope of seeing the team through to 2015, coach Steve Hansen and his selection panel must ensure someone else has had the time and space to make the No 10 jersey their own.

We are currently enjoying a great era of All Black dominance, possibly the greatest in our long, proud rugby history. That history tells us, however, that eras like this one tend to come to an end when coaches and selectors enjoying the glow of success take their eyes off the future.

Dan Carter has been the greatest first-five this country, and arguably the world, has ever seen. This rugby-mad nation would love nothing more for the magic to continue for another couple years, and for his World Cup dream to be fulfilled. But if it is, as it now seems, just a dream, Hansen and the selectors need to be the first to wake up to it.

ONE MORE THING: Congratulations to Manawatu's Kiwibank Local Heroes, revealed in today's paper. I was lucky enough to be one of the judges and was blown away by the number of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in this community. You guys are an inspiration, and this region is proud of you.

Manawatu Standard