Carter masterclass sets up win over Wales
Wales have seen it all before of course, but it didn't help their cause at Carisbrook on Saturday night that Dan Carter chose this moment to reaffirm his status as the best No 10 in the game.
The All Blacks five-eighth produced arguably his best individual test performance since his twin virtuoso performances in 2005 against the British and Irish Lions in Wellington and Wales in Cardiff, and in doing so propelled the All Blacks to a magnificent 42-9 victory to bring the curtain down on the old Dunedin ground.
What is it about Carter and teams in red?
Truth be told we'd probably seen this coming a week ago in New Plymouth when Carter hinted at a return to his very best form against the outgunned Irish. But in this first of back-to-back tests against Warren Gatland's Welshmen he took it to another level.
"What do you say," said assistant coach Wayne Smith when asked to assess his No 10's star turn that included two dazzling tries and a 27-point haul. "He's got his running game back, his goalkicking was superb, his kicking in the second half was pinpoint, and he got us into the right areas. He's a great defender on top of that."
Smith said he wasn't surprised to see Carter's game humming again despite a less than impressive Super 14 campaign.
"He's a big-game player, he loves the black jersey, he's a good professional and that's what you want -- big games to stand up in, big games when you're under pressure, and that's what he did."
Carter said he felt he'd got the ball rolling against Ireland and wanted to take it to another level as the All Blacks say farewell to 102 years of test rugby on the Brook.
"I was happy with the way I played against Ireland, but I didn't want to leave it there," said the 28-year-old who earned his 68th test cap. "I wanted to put in another good performance on the back of that one. I was pretty pleased with the way I played, especially in the second half. It was a lot of fun."
It sure was. Carter did all his usual things well, but he unleashed a change of pace that indicates he's back at a physical peak, and his footwork was top class as he twice bedazzled the Welsh defence for fine tries.
His second was worth the price of admission alone as he raced nearly half the field to finish a surging move with a splendid mix of pace, step and change of angle. It had one media veteran excitedly comparing it to Christian Cullen's deeds of the '90s, though Carter of course was typically downbeat about it all.
"I managed to get into a bit of space, and there were a few players alongside me, so that put the fullback under a bit of pressure and I managed to turn him inside-out," was Carter's unflattering description of a splendid score.
Carter confirmed the All Blacks had been spurred into their second-half turnaround, after being put under a heap of pressure by a "fired-up" Welsh side in the first 40, by some stern words at the break from Graham Henry.
"It was to be expected really," said Carter of Henry's halftime revup. "We hadn't played that well in the first half and had been put under a lot of pressure. There were a couple of key messages about playing the right end of the field, plugging corners and holding on to the ball.
"We did that and it worked for us. We were able to get some confidence and play well after that. He was much happier after the game than he was at halftime, for sure."
Henry said he felt Carter's personal tour de force had been assisted greatly by some key, and experienced, men he has around him.
"Jimmy Cowan is playing well, and Conrad Smith has played a lot of test matches now, and when he was playing with the Crusaders he had a lot of youngsters and had to run the ship by himself a lot which is a hard job to do.
"It's pleasing he's feeling a wee bit more freedom because he's got a lot more leaders around him who give him information so he doesn't have to make all the decisions by himself."
Carter felt the All Blacks had removed many of the doubts that had remained after the Ireland test with their response to a pretty stern first-half examination by the Welsh.
"But we have to back up and maybe play even better next week," he added. "They'll be fired up for their last game of the year and want to put in a big performance. We'll look at the game and areas we can improve."
It's hard to see Carter getting much better, but the Welsh certainly wouldn't be surprised if he found an even higher level. After all, if anyone knows the powers of this remarkable No 10, it's them..