Dan Carter ready to regain All Blacks playmaking role at Rugby World Cup
Dan Carter is ready to regain the reins and drive dramatic improvements from the All Blacks this week.
Two indicators point to Carter's return at first five-eighth in Cardiff.
Before leaving London for the Welsh capital, assistant coach Ian Foster made it clear the All Black were intent on striving for consistency in selection and cohesion in performance from their final two pool matches.
- Age: 33
- Born: Southbridge
- Position: First five-eighths
- Super team: Crusaders
- Test debut: v Wales, 2003
A notable rhetoric has emerged since then. To a man the All Blacks are not satisfied with the quality of their two pool wins. Improvements from their physicality, skills, execution and defence will be demanded against Georgia, who love to scrum and maul, on Saturday (NZT).
Judging by Foster's comments alone Carter seems set to be reinstated as the director of what is expected to largely represent the All Blacks first-choice backline. That would also see Ma'a Nonu play his 100th test.
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The second factor favouring Carter's return are the niggling injuries to Beauden Barrett and Colin Slade. For the second day in a row Barrett sat out training due to whiplash from a big tackle against Namibia. And while Slade took part, having recovered from a minor hamstring complaint, he is more likely to be involved from the bench.
- Age: 24
- Born: New Plymouth
- Position: First five-eighths
- Super team: Hurricanes
- Test debut: v Ireland, 2012
Even if the pair are deemed fit Carter is keen to settle back into the playmaker's role and stamp his authority following a week off.
"It will be interesting to see how their [Barrett and Slade] week plays out but if need be I'm keen to get back into it," Carter said. "You're never wanting to watch from the sidelines. With the strength of the squad we've got that's going to happen to a lot of the guys throughout this tournament.
"The beauty is we've had two games now. Everyone has been given a run, apart from Liam [Messam]. We got through those games with wins but it's time we stepped up now. We're in a position, our third game into this tournament, and it's time we improved as a team and that's including myself."
Millennium Stadium holds one obvious demon for the All Blacks; their 2007 quarterfinal defeat. But they've also enjoyed some found memories, beating Wales by a 16-point average margin in the past five tests there.
The venue is, in fact, the favourite of many All Blacks, including Carter. Mainly due to its electric atmosphere and roof which, when closed, provides conditions that suit their desire to play at pace. It also shelters goal kickers from wind and rain.
From a New Zealand perspective you only have to consider the type of matches regularly showcased in Dunedin these days to appreciate the value of a roof in a city dogged by wintery climates.
Provided it is used the roof should only encourage the All Blacks to lift another gear on attack and inspire the likes of Ben Smith.
"It's always good for an outside back to know that there's going to be a roof," Smith said. "You can count on having good ball and can make sure you're making the most of the conditions. It's similar to Forsyth Barr Stadium. You see some great games in there because of the conditions being so good."
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One downside is, of course, the soft nature of the stadium's pitch. Large chunks of turf are frequently dug up during a match. Footing can be difficult, particularly at scrum time.
"There's not much we can do about it to be honest," All Blacks flanker Sam Cane said. "We can talk about some technical terms about the front row digging their toes in and pushing through the ground instead of back but you've just got to deal with it as best you can."