Carter's playing chances increasing by the day
D-day is still to come but Dan Carter looks set to start against England this weekend.
The world's premier first five-eighth regained the reigns from Aaron Cruden and came through the All Blacks light hour training session at Latymers Upper School in London unscathed today.
As the All Blacks' gruelling 14-test season nears its conclusion, Steve Hansen has scaled back his side's training intensity to negate the influence of fatigue and injuries.
He will be pleased by early results. Carter's progression is a positive sign.
Seemingly untroubled by the Achilles twinge which kept him out of last week's comfortable victory over Wales, Carter ran lightly in the preferred back-line then kicked from the hand and for goal in dour wintery conditions.
While he appears to be recovering quicker than expected the true test won't arrive until Friday [NZT], the same training he pulled up lame in Cardiff.
"When I felt that tweak I knew straight away if I continued to run on it I could do more damage, hence shooting onto the wing," he said of last week's incident on a sodden training field.
"The plan was to get through training. It was pretty light today. I didn't run over 50 per cent and I got through it well."
Hansen has Cruden, Beauden Barrett and Canterbury pivot Tom Taylor to call on, but if Carter proves his fitness he seems certain to start and charm the English in what is expected to be the toughest test of the All Blacks' European tour.
For now at least, Carter is buoyed at the prospect of playing at Twickenham, and by his pending fatherhood. Ending this season undefeated in the black jersey, rather than in the stands, is a burning motivation.
"I'm pretty confident to be honest," he said of taking on the English. "I didn't kick as much as I normally would but I just wanted to get some confidence and kick a few balls."
After missing four tests this year with niggling leg injuries, there were concerns age is starting to deteriorate the 30-year-old's body and derail his quest to feature at the next World Cup in 2015.
Both Carter's major long-term leg injuries - his Achilles rupture in 2009 and last year's groin tear which cruelly rule him out of the World Cup - struck the left side of his body. Rather than sense his body is breaking down, he feels overcompensation is the reason for his on-going right side issues.
"I'm working through that with the medical team. You're always trying to find reasons why but it's hard to explain," he said.
"I don't know about concerned, just frustrated because believe it or not my body feels in good knick. It's just little niggling injures. They are not serious which I've had in the past."
With a holiday looming, Carter made it clear he would not lace the boots this week if he could not perform at his peak.
On today's evidence you would back him to return.
"I want to play. In saying that I've got a bit of a break after this so I'm not going to do anything silly if I'm not right to play," he said. "I want to put the team first. If I'm limping around just to get another cap then I won't play. I'm going to be smart about my decision."
Other than hooker Andrew Hore, who faces the judiciary tomorrow for his swinging arm, Hansen should have a fully fit squad to select from with hooker Keven Mealamu expected to recover from a calf injury which sidelined him last week.
Meanwhile, England have called up uncapped Gloucester first five Freddie Burns in place of the injured Toby Flood.
Owen Farrell, whose last start was in the first test in South Africa this year, is set to replace Flood in the starting XV against the world champions.
Lock Courtney Lawes, who missed England's first three tests of the November series because of a knee injury, has also been included in the 23-man squad. Two other locks, Mouritz Botha and Tom Palmer, have been omitted.
- Fairfax NZ News with Reuters