Signs look good for Carter to get green light
Dan Carter has more reason than most to risk a return against England as he looks for the first unbeaten season of his illustrious test career.
The odds on the first five-eighth running on to Twickenham on Sunday (NZ time) have shortened dramatically after he made it through yesterday's light training session unscathed.
A week ago Carter was a 50-50 prospect at best, dodgy enough for the selectors to pluck Tom Taylor off a beach in Thailand.
Now, it seems, the world's best pivot is determined to torment England once again, a side against whom he has averaged 18.5 points in nine tests.
It is no surprise Carter is making every effort to shake off the annoying pain at the junction of his calf and Achilles.
The injury kept him out of the Wales test, but to finish this season on the sidelines will be as appealing as a dip in the Thames.
"It's the last game of the year and I want to be a part of it. The week for me is doing whatever I can to get myself into a position to play," he said.
The 30-year-old was adamant his recent history of serious leg injuries was not a concern. His body was in "good nick" and he wondered if recurring niggles in his right leg were due to over compensating after post-World Cup groin surgery on his left leg.
It's hard to doubt the All Blacks medical staff and trainers, a group that have kept the side remarkably fit and injury free through 13 tests.
However, Carter would not be the first athlete to try and play through a niggle and after last season's heart-breaking World Cup calamity, this year-ender holds special appeal.
"The drive is there and that's the most important thing. The hunger for the game and enjoyment and desire to go out and play as well as I can each week is still there," he said.
Now the father-to-be has the chance to lie on his beach towel with the broad smile of being part of a rare unbeaten test season.
He has achieved most things in his career, but an unbeaten test season is not one.
In his first year with the All Blacks in 2003, Carter gained eight caps playing in a losing effort, but still recalls vividly being on the bench when the All Blacks lost to England in Wellington.
Now, nine years later, he has again played in eight unbeaten tests. He will understandably be reluctant for things to end here. And it seems coach Steve Hansen will give him every chance in what promises to be a full strength 23.
Fatigue has been a theme this week, but a full complement trained in the rain yesterday including hooker Keven Mealamu, who has recovered from his calf injury.
Andrew Hore, who fronted the IRB judiciary in Bristol overnight, is the only player likely not to be considered when the team is named later today.
Carter and Mealamu would represent two changes to the side that started against Wales, but an extensive rejig is unlikely.
Hansen has said the final two matches will be his top side and on form nobody played their way out in Cardiff.
Lock could be one area that causes some thought. Luke Romano's done nothing wrong all year, but youngster Brodie Retallick is champing at the bit and could add some height against the big England pack.
Prospects of starting Piri Weepu at halfback may have faded as it seems logical the All Blacks will try to run the English off their feet, something few do better than Aaron Smith.
In the reserves it will be interesting to see whether Hansen gives loose forward Adam Thomson a reprieve after his citing against Scotland and subsequent suspension.