Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Carter - the one ringmaster who can rule them all

It's the way he uses information, says coach as he analyses NZ's main weapon.

There's as much gloom in the valleys as there is respect and envy as the people of Wales appreciate that while they can't find the right man to wear the No 10 shirt, the All Blacks have.

Modern rugby has evolved into an overly complex game which has only added to the pressure thrust on first five-eighths.

Get the right player, get the right performances, get the right results. It's irrefutable, and might it now be true that the All Blacks, in Daniel Carter, have the only truly capable No 10 in the world game.

The Welsh wouldn't disagree. Their descent into chaos these past few weeks has coincided with a loss of confidence in their various No 10s. This is a nation that once led the world in creative genius - a country that once it had produced Barry John and Phil Bennett, expected every other first-five to be cut from the same cloth.

A rugby nation to the core, the Welsh believe deeply in the cult of the No 10.

They know that the attacking prowess, the rhythm and flow are mostly guided and facilitated by the decisions and skills of the first-five.

Against Argentina they saw Rhys Priestland play like a robot - jerky movements and decisions that appeared pre-programmed.

Dan Biggar didn't do much better against Samoa before injury forced Priestland back out for more soul-destroying inaccuracy.

But it's not only the Welsh who can't find their play-making maestro. England had 35 minutes of territorial and possession dominance against Australia and yet couldn't conjure a try. Toby Flood was the conductor, yet he was hardly ever on the bus.

Scotland suffered much the same fate against South Africa when Greig Laidlaw couldn't find the right strings to pull, and while Johnny Sexton is seen as the chosen one in Ireland, results don't support that theory.

It looks to everyone as though the All Blacks are playing a different type of rugby, that they operate with different intentions, better ideas and more purpose.

And that's largely because they are, and largely because in Carter, they have the raw materials to build a more potent attacking game.

"A lot of what a No 10 does has a big impact on attack. I don't think that has changed," says All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster.

"I think what has changed, because of the requirements of the pace of the game - multi-phases, lots of rucks - is where the communication comes from for the 10 to make those decisions.

"In the past - and I'm talking a while ago - the 10 would call everything and everyone would do what they said.

"Now the game is too dynamic so 10s get a lot of information from the players outside them and around them about what's on and then their ability to respond quickly to that information is ultimately the key."

Other first-fives are swamped by the deluge of information; Carter is able to process it into a meaningful blueprint.

His basic skills are often cited as the difference, but while they are outstanding, it is his ability to use them - to reach for the right play time after time - that is the critical difference.

It's a given that a test first-five will have the portfolio of handling, kicking and running skills. Priestland, Biggar, Flood, Laidlaw and Sexton tick the individual boxes, have the component parts. But what they don't have is the instruction sheet on how to assemble them into something deadly.

"What Daniel is, is a master at his ability to receive lots of information and then make good decisions very quickly," says Foster. "And so, is it a point of difference? Yes it is. But it is not that he has some kind of magic formula that makes that.

"It's his experience - he has been around a long time at this level, he understands the game clearly, plus he understands our players and how we play, so he makes very good decisions with the information he gets fed."

The view in Wales is that they stand a chance of winning only if Priestland can be coaxed into some kind of form.

The forwards can be stirred up into a frenzy and persuaded to die for the cause for 80 minutes. Parity in the set-piece and collisions is achievable for Wales. But what then? No side can beat the All Blacks with possession alone - it has to be converted into points and this is where doubts exist.

Priestland's confidence is on the floor and how will he feel seeing the world's best in the other team, in imperious form.

It will be intimidating and salutary, no doubt, but if these young contenders are ever going to become something, they have to be given the chance.

"We could have picked someone else there but there are certain players we need to support," said Wales coach Warren Gatland.

"We see an incredibly talented player who is just not playing quite as well as he can at the moment and we back him."

- NZ Herald

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