OPINION: It's a role he's performed only occasionally in his glittering 100-test career, but I'd have Daniel Carter on my reserves bench for the opening Bledisloe Cup test of the year in Sydney on August 16.
Who wears the All Black No 10 jersey is, for me, the main talking point heading into the test against the Wallabies. And it's hard not to think Aaron Cruden deserves first crack running the cutter, with Carter providing valuable cover on the bench.
I'n not saying Cruden has now surpassed Carter, or that he's the long-term starter. But the Chiefs playmaker has begun to find form and Carter simply hasn't played enough at No 10 in his limited time back in Super Rugby.
This is a loyalty card, in a way, because Cruden has been through the June tests and they've persevered with him and worked him into form.
People are going to say ''it's Dan Carter'' and ''he's the best we've had.''I'm not suggesting otherwise, but factoring everything in, I would take Cruden into the first test.
In June he ran the cutter, and was given the opportunity to build confidence and regain his form. I'd like to see that continue.
As good as Dan has been in the closing stages of Super Rugby, it's been in the No 12 jersey.
But I have been seriously impressed with how well he's come back for the Crusaders, and if anyone needs evidence that these breaks are a good thing, this is it.
Having Carter on the bench also provides options at 10 and 12, and gives you some flexibility.
Then you can choose between a Charles Pitutau, a Malakai Fekitoa or maybe even a Beauden Barrett as your other backs reserve. Piutau looks the ideal guy when he's fit and firing.
This tells me why Barrett didn't get the start many felt he deserved in June. They knew Carter was coming back, believed he could get quickly back to his best, and they had to keep developing Cruden to give him that confidence he was No 1.
Sure, it's hard on Barrett, but it's all part of the master plan.
It's the same theory on why they've preferred Sam Cane to Matt Todd.
Steve Hansen is on the record saying you don't lose ground in the All Blacks when you're out injured. And there's no reason to doubt him on this.
There's also interest in the makeup of a competitive back three - but I'm not picking a change in the status quo here.
It's about getting your best players on the park, and we've started to see Israel Dagg doing the things you need him to do as a test fullback.
Do I think he's in better form than Ben Smith? No. But Smith is going to be better than Cory Jane on the right wing, and we could really see that combination of Julian Savea, Smith and Dagg start to hum.
The other big calls on the bench will come at halfback and whether they feel Steven Luatua can cover lock.
I wonder whether they're prepared for him to be that guy against Australia and Argentina but perhaps not against the bigger South Africans.
It's been interesting to read some criticism from Carlos Spencer and Nick Mallett about the way South African teams are playing the game.
I couldn't disagree more. Test match footy is all about wins and losses.
Does anybody remember the style factor in the All Blacks' perfect season last year? Or just that they won all 14 tests?
South Africa's strengths are a constant. They're very big and physical up front, they look to dominate at the set piece and they've usually got a very good kicking game.
On the back of that there's a conservative nature to the way they play.
If you're saying South African rugby would be better off with an expansive game you're barking up the wrong tree.
They have an inherent belief in their style of game and the success they've had with it over the years (last time I checked they'd won just as many World Cups as us) tells you that's well founded.
I've done some research on this too. Over the last year they've played 12 tests, won 10, and scored 48 tries to 18, and 398 points to 194.
If it ain't broke, why fix it?
- Sunday Star Times
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