Mehrtens: Carter comeback should be the NPC

ANDREW MEHRTENS
Last updated 05:00 24/06/2014
Dan Carter
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HE'S BACK: All Blacks star Dan Carter is set for a return to Super Rugby. But should he be rushed back into the national side?

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OPINION: At the risk of upsetting a Cantab or two, here's some advice for Steve Hansen on the reintroduction of Dan Carter to the All Blacks - don't pick him for the Rugby Championship.

I'm serious. After sweeping the English 3-0 to extend their test-win streak to 17, the All Blacks have shown they can survive, and even thrive, without their great No 10. Now I'd like to see him earn his test recall with a standout provincial campaign for Canterbury.

I know there's precedent for immediate post-sabbatical reintroduction with Richie McCaw last year, but given the depth at No 10 now, and given Carter's fragile fitness in recent seasons, I'd like to see this process handled differently.

The November tour, off the back of the provincial championship, would be the best way to re-integrate him, especially as a big part of the leadership group.

What a great signal that would send - having the world's best back over the last decade playing in our domestic competition.

And imagine the interest it would generate, not to mention the boost it would give his (mostly) young team-mates.

Clearly our situations are different, but playing the NPC in 2003 re-energised me with the vigour and enjoyment of competing with keen up-and-comers.

He has been around long enough that a few more tests off wouldn't do any harm and then he would have time to work into it for 2015.

I wouldn't be reading too much into a series against the English that was a bit tougher through the first two tests than some predicted. It was nowhere near perfect but the World Cup isn't won 15 months out.

At times the All Blacks played rugby that no team can live with and, presumably, we will see that more often as we head towards September 2015.

But they are also working on parts of the game not necessarily considered New Zealand's strengths: mauls, set pieces and kicking for territory.

They're also integrating more players into their system and developing depth in key positions, with the notable exception of hooker.

At times the defence has looked a little fractured, so bedding down a system that's ingrained will be a focus. It's important guys keep moving forward even after their man has passed to cover attackers chopping back inside. That should be bread and butter for a good defensive system.

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If I had to grade the All Blacks I'd give their performances marks from five to seven out of 10. Not too bad considering they're just building into it.

There were too many mistakes in the first test, and they were handed the third in the first half by English errors which contributed to an All Blacks points explosion.

My standout player for the series was Ben Smith - not for the amazing things he does, like the chase, tackle and steal on Manu Tuilagi, but because he's so clean in everything he does. It's got to the point when he does make a mistake, you take notice because it's a surprise.

Honourable mention in the backs goes to Aaron Smith - his passing was beautiful to watch, especially in that last test, and he's on top of his game.

Up front, locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock impressed - accurate with their core roles, anchoring the scrum well and having an influence round the track.

To think Luke Romano is still to return, and Pat Tuipulotu and Dom Bird are waiting on the sidelines.

But this series has also shown the All Blacks are vulnerable when the opposition controls possession and tempo. England did this much better in the second spell on Saturday, and probably came out on top in four of the six halves in the series.

The third test in many ways was almost irrelevant in terms of what it means going into the World Cup next year. A tired, mistake-ridden English team gifted the match away, but nonetheless are building depth, belief and a strong culture.

Where do they lag behind the All Blacks? Probably in collective leadership and in handling skills.

Stuart Lancaster said his team was coming to New Zealand to win back some respect, and there's no doubt it has achieved that - on and off the field.

He will find it easy to revitalise this group and turn the results around. If he gets the buy-in he needs from the clubs, the hosts could be very serious threats indeed come the next global tournament.

- Fairfax Media

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