ABs sweat over Dan Carter's injured leg

TOBY ROBSON IN CARDIFF
Last updated 05:00 24/11/2012

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It is one thing to play Italy without Dan Carter, quite another to face a desperate Wales at Millennium Stadium.

With the swing of a leg, and the thud of a wet ball on a boggy and rain-drenched field in Pontypridd, Wales' hopeless cause got the shred coach Warren Gatland must have been craving.

Though the All Blacks camp put the shutters up last night as they assessed their prized pivot's right leg, Aaron Cruden seems likely to step into the breach, just as he did at last year's Rugby World Cup.

He has had little time to prepare for his fifth start of the season, but should be experienced enough to cope.

If he does make his 19th test appearance it will add spice to a buildup that was feeling more false by the hour.

What hope the injury-hit Welsh and their doubt-stricken first five-eighth Rhys Priestland of restricting the margin to 40?

The mood of Wales' rugby this week has mirrored the sky, 50 shades of grey, but nothing remotely arousing.

Carter's plight will give renewed hope. It will have little to do with Cruden's ability, for he is a fine player, restricted mainly by a lack of consistent game time at test level, rather than his own limitations.

But in Wales, like many parts of the globe, Carter is put on a pedestal. He is the Phil Bennett the Valleys no longer produce.

Without him, the All Blacks look a little less super-human and for a desperate Welsh side his absence will be grasped as a sign from above.

It is unlikely to be enough to halt their five-game losing streak. Wales do not have the scrum to beat the All Blacks without injured tighthead Adam Jones and out-of-shape Toulon loosehead Gethin Jenkins on the bench.

Paul James and Aaron Jarvis will struggle against Tony Woodcock and Owen Franks.

The return of Jonathan Davies will help in the midfield, but if the All Blacks get dominance from set piece it is hard to see the Welsh backs stopping Julian Savea, Cory Jane and Israel Dagg.

But rolling over does not appear to be an option for a side under siege in their homeland and they have had a steely resolve all week.

"I don't have too much sympathy for them. I'm in the opposition camp these days," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. "But what it will do is make them tighter. Invariably when they get criticised you get tighter, and that will make them more dangerous, I think."

It has been interesting to watch Hansen, a former Wales coach, attempt to wind up the home side and in particular their Kiwi coach.

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One wonders if he was hoping for a reaction to fuel his side, having fed the belief that defence coach Shaun Edwards arrogantly predicted they would have beaten the All Blacks had the sides met in the World Cup final.

Or maybe Hansen wants his side to show the ruthless streak that was missing when they drew with a diluted Australian side in Brisbane.

That 18-all draw blemished their perfect record and suggested they had slipped in their preparation for a test everyone thought they would win in a canter.

A truly great side would have put the Wallabies away. If this side are to take their spot in the pantheon they appear to be heading toward, crushing Wales would be a good start.

- Stuff

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