Dan Carter: Boks are a serious threat to ABs
This is not your run of the mill Springboks side, and Dan Carter doesn't mind admitting that scares him a little.
The 31-year-old playmaker spoke to the media yesterday after the All Blacks put in their first serious day's work of the week ahead of Saturday's seismic Rugby Championship test against the Springboks at Eden Park.
With 96 tests under his belt, Carter is an old hand at the pre-match build-up and seldom gives much away when quizzed about opposition sides. The bigger the occasion the more reticent he usually is.
But yesterday was an exception, and the master five-eighth even found room to take a dig or two at some of the one-dimensional Boks sides they've faced in the past, admitting that the All Blacks always backed themselves to "out-think" them.
Not this South African side, though. Under coach Heyneke Meyer they've built nicely into what appears a pretty complete unit. They've won their last nine tests in a row, including all six in 2013, and they rolled into Auckland this week - where they haven't won since 1937 - as a side pretty comfortable in its own skin.
A record-breaking, drought-busting 38-12 thumping of the Wallabies in Brisbane last Saturday night only enhanced that, as did a 73-13 explosion against Argentina in the competition opener.
Carter has certainly been impressed, and he's taken a closer look than most as the leader of the All Blacks strategy unit that presented the game-plan to the team yesterday morning.
"I think just their all-round game," he said when asked to pinpoint what he'd noticed most. "We know physically they're an awesome side, but with some of the tries they have been scoring they've been playing quite an open style.
"I don't know whether it's surprised me or not but it's something they probably haven't done so well in the past. Their backs are scoring good tries, their outside backs are making breaks, and they're a bit more of an all-round package - whereas in previous years they have been quite one-dimensional."
It's the sort of challenge these All Blacks relish. They've compiled an unrivalled record on Steve Hansen's watch - 18 wins and a draw in 20 tests - but this week they clearly feel genuinely threatened.
"They're big boys and the only one way to go about confronting them is to match them physically," added Carter. "The thing we pride ourselves on is having the ability to out-think them as well, but it's going to be a challenge this week.
"They're in great form, and using the ball a lot more than they have in the past."
Carter mentioned several times the need for his forwards to quell the Boks' fury up front, and they're going to have to do that without Richie McCaw who always relished the confrontation. His replacement Sam Cane is nowhere near the physical presence of the venerable skipper.
"I guess the leaders in the team, the guys who have been around for a while, have to step up and make the job a bit easier for the likes of Sam coming in for such a big occasion," added Carter. "We just need to make sure we're calm -- excited for the game but also thinking clearly as well."
Carter will be a big part of that - arguably the most important All Black on the paddock. He'll dictate the game and, by his own admission, needs to get the equation better than he did in Hamilton last Saturday.
"We've put a lot of work in with the tactics we want to take into the game," he said. "They are pretty consistent with the way they want to play and so tactically we have to be smart and really trust our skills under pressure. We're going to get a lot of pressure and it's about executing and reading those situations well."
If Carter sounds ready for a big night, well, that's because he is.
"This is going to be the biggest match of our year so far, and even potentially one of the biggest since the World Cup because of the form they're in. At home on Eden Park against an in-form Boks side - it's an occasion you want to be part of."
The All Blacks were watched yesterday at training by NSW Blues rugby league coach Laurie Daley who is getting alongside the world champion New Zealanders in a bid to halt Queensland's seven-year domination of State of Origin.