Spencer has last shot at Cantabs

By Wynne Gray

Unable to play in the Super 12, first five-eighths Carlos Spencer yesterday saved an impish farewell for the Cantabrians who have tried to roast him down the years.

What would he miss most after 14 first-class rugby seasons in New Zealand?

"Going down there and pissing off those Canterbury crowds," he winked, or at least tried to, with his left eyelid still causing problems after surgery on his fractured cheekbone.

Like last year when he savoured his last-minute try by mucking around before pressing the ball near the corner flag.

"I was running the clock down but it was great to hear the crowd get upset."

Spencer has been a lightning rod for rugby emotions throughout New Zealand but for the next three years he will be strutting his stuff at Northampton in England.

He cannot play again until his eye settles and has yet to decide on playing in Jonah Lomu's comeback match at Twickenham on June 4 or trying out for two conflicting NZ Maori matches against Fiji and the Lions.

"I want to play for Jonah and the Maori," said Spencer, "and I hope to get something resolved soon."

A mix of circumstances has caused Spencer to shift to Northampton at the start of July, a deal which means no chance of an Eden Park farewell for Auckland against the Lions on July 5.

Changing priorities, including his family life and an easing interest in New Zealand rugby, mean Spencer is ready for a different challenge.

In 2000 he turned down a huge offer to join Leicester and earlier this year there were reports that he was valued at about $250,000 a season in the UK.

All Black coach Graham Henry paid tribute to Spencer, a player who made coaches like himself appear good.

"He has been the most influential player in Auckland rugby in the last seven or eight years," he said.

Spencer had to seek releases from the New Zealand Rugby Union and Auckland which ran through to the end of next year.

New Auckland coach Pat Lam said he went to England at the same age as Spencer and subsequently played for the same Northampton club.

"We had a talk and I could see he was at the same stage I was at. There was no point in trying to talk him out of it, I could see it in his eyes," Lam said. "It is cool by me."

Replacements are not thick on the ground however. Tasesa Lavea will help but he is injured again, Orene Ai'i is off to Japan and Murray Williams has gone to Bay of Plenty.

Meanwhile Blues coach Peter Sloane is considering using Ai'i as a backup halfback/five-eighths for his side's Friday night game with the Waratahs in Sydney.

"Our injury level is incredible really and it makes it worse that we are leaving early Wednesday," he said. "If Mils [Muliaina] does not get up for example I am not sure we can even find someone else out of the pool."

Spencer, Lavea, David Gibson, Ben Meyer and the suspended Rua Tipoki are definite non-starters for the Blues, while Muliaina, Sam Tuitupou, Steve Devine, Craig McGrath, Daniel Braid and Bradley Mika are all doubtful.

Carlos Spencer

* Played 35 tests

* Scored 291 test points, third on all-time All Blacks scoring list behind Grant Fox and Andrew Mehrtens

* All Black debut, November 4, 1995 v Languedoc-Roussillon at Beziers

* Last test, August 7, 2004 v Australia at Sydney

* 2002 & 2003 Tom French Memorial Maori Player of the Year

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a2 at 26 Jul 2014 17:29:25 Processing Time: 1760ms