Former All Blacks second five-eighth Walter Little has urged the national selectors to rush Dan Carter back and believes that would also save Ma'a Nonu's skin ahead of next weekend's test in Sydney.
Carter, who ruptured his Achilles tendon six months ago, attended his first All Blacks training session in Auckland yesterday and if he emerges unscathed from Canterbury's match against Waikato at AMI Stadium tomorrow night he is at short odds to replace Stephen Donald at No10 for the Bledisloe Cup test against the Wallabies.
Although potent on attack in the 31-19 loss to the Springboks in Durban on August 2, second-five Nonu did little to relieve the pressure on Donald in either test in the Republic and his critics have suggested Luke McAlister, who possesses a more educated boot, would be a better fit for the backline.
Little, who played most of his 50 tests between 1990 and 1998 at second-five, said if Carter returned it should result in the backline functioning more smoothly and take some of the heat off Nonu but warned he still needed to look to use his short kicking game to turn defences around.
"He's got the goods and I think when you see Carter back you will see him back to his best again. I think he (Nonu) needs to have a look at what options are out there for him. If he believes if a `wipers' or a kick from second-five are the best option, then he has got to tell his insides that he needs the ball.
"He has also been around long enough and I think it's time for him to start making those decisions. You can't really just rely on one or two guys, you have to have a senior platform (of players) there who can rely on each other."
Nonu has played 39 tests for the All Blacks and has been the first-string No12 since the 2007 World Cup. Although there has never been any question about his ability to make line breaks and he has formed a solid defensive shield with Conrad Smith, he is rarely used as a kicking option at test level.
"I think the reason we have got in this situation, where we are thinking about a kicking option at second five-eighth, is because we don't have Carter there," Little added.
"But once we do get him back you will probably find things start to happen again."
Having lost both tests in South Africa, the All Blacks' grip on the Tri-Nations trophy is tenuous but a win over the Wallabies on August 22 would deflect some of that heat and ensure they retain the trophy.
Changes from the Durban defeat are certain but just how many will be made is uncertain.
For Little, however, the return of Carter should be a no brainer: "I believe if he is 100 per cent and I think he has shown that in the games he has played ... And he is going to get another game under his belt on Friday and comes through that, well, you have to start him definitely."
Coach Graham Henry was a little coy yesterday whether Carter will be rushed back.
"We're selecting the side on Tuesday in Sydney and we'll have to wait and see," Henry said.
"The squad of 26 will be announced on Saturday night ... and we'll select a 15 and seven substitutes on Tuesday."
Henry said Carter had played well for Canterbury against Auckland last weekend and was keen to play.
"He's jumping out of his skin, he's enjoyed his training. He'll do his best but I don't think there's any greater expectation on Daniel Carter than any other time that he's played for the All Blacks," he said.
Meanwhile lock Bryn Evans is the latest All Black to have his Tri-Nations campaign ended by injury.
The Hawke's Bay leaper, who was a surprise inclusion in this year's national squad, will undergo surgery on his back and is out of rugby "for the foreseeable future", according to All Blacks doctor Deb Robinson.
Evans was forced to withdraw from the Hawke's Bay team ahead of their match against Wellington last weekend after suffering back pain while training.
Robinson said Evans had been diagnosed with a small disc prolapse in his back after undergoing a scan and visiting a specialist this week.
- with NZPA
- © Fairfax NZ News
Is Richie McCaw now the greatest All Black of all time?