Is the World Cup dream over for Dan Carter?
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OPINION: Dan Carter has all the will in the world to play in his fourth World Cup; but a body that is betraying him seemingly at every turn.
He must now face the stark reality that England 2015 could yet be a bridge too far.
Of course, we shouldn't be alarmist. Injuries happen in rugby.
But with every crack and strain of muscle and bone, coming now at distressingly short intervals, that global triumph Carter so thirsts for drifts a little further away.
Remember Carter was invalided out of the 2011 World Cup at the end of pool play; and though he collected a winner's medal, he has always felt he was a bystander only in the triumph that ended an at times agonising 24-year wait.
The 2015 global tournament in England has shone like a beacon on his horizon pretty much from the moment he tore his groin practising goalkicks on the eve of the match against Canada back in 2011.
He's never made a big thing of it; but those who know him well understand too well it's the dynamo that's powered these latter years of his career.
Today comes the revelation Carter, now 32, is to miss at least the first two Bledisloe tests of the year as he deals with a crack in his fibula suffered in Saturday night's Super Rugby final in Sydney.
He's needs at least a month to let the injury heal. Maybe longer.
Remember he's just spent six months rebuilding that increasingly fallible body.
His fitness trainer told me to my face just the other day that he was as fit and healthy as he's been in an age, and on course to swallow up the 18 months of football to take him through to England.
But that was gym fitness. Rehab strength. It had yet to stand under the unforgiving blowtorch of test rugby - or even, as it turned out, grand final footy.
Six months rebuilding: going under the knife for some surgical repair, then working away in the gym to strengthen a body he well understood had begun to waver. Then, just five games back, comes this.
The concern is Carter is now suffering injuries at such a regular rate that his body is simply sending a message that can no longer be ignored.
Rugby is a brutal sport that exacts a physical toll. It appears the man who may be the greatest of our No 10s may be running short of change to pay that levy.
Remember injuries have limited him to just 20 test starts over the previous three seasons.
Even on the glorious occasion that was his 100th international at Twickenham last November, he was forced off the field prematurely with an achilles injury.
He's had shoulder problems, achilles issues, groin troubles and ankle woes. He's even broken his leg.
We know he's tough and gutsy. Those attributes are beyond repute. We know he has a champion's mindset and an array of skills that are all but unparalleled in his sport.
But there is significant, compelling evidence that one of the great careers in New Zealand rugby - nay, New Zealand sport - may be drawing to its end.
Can Carter even make the next World Cup?
That's a question All Black fans are entitled to ask - just as they are, for different reasons, about the great Richie McCaw.
Carter's coaches will give him every chance. They have his back, for sure. They will make no premature pronouncements, and will back him to the hilt as he battles back from one more setback.
But if Steve Hansen is honest, he'll admit that he's been planning for the day he will no longer have Carter for the entire time he's been in the top job. He's had to, by necessity.
He's had to start Aaron Cruden in so many big tests; he's had to bring Beauden Barrett through as the super-sub with the uncanny ability to make an impact in big-time tests. They've carried the load.
And so by the very virtue of Carter's fallibility, the succession plan is not just under way, but well and truly instituted, with a good deal of success.
In a funny way the All Blacks are more ready for life without Carter than Carter is for life without the All Blacks.
It would be sad beyond tears to see the pinup boy become a tragic figure as his career winds to an inevitable close.
He deserves a more glorious ending.
But sport, as we know, does not always write a joyful script.
What did you make of this year's ITM Cup?