Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Carter still has crown

None of the first five-eighths on show at the weekend could come near the All Black.

Dan Carter set the All Blacks alight in Edinburgh, elevating his team from functional to outstanding. Photo / Getty Images
Dan Carter set the All Blacks alight in Edinburgh, elevating his team from functional to outstanding. Photo / Getty Images

Europe is thick with pretenders yet none of the first-fives hoping to steal Dan Carter's crown are likely to usurp the king. Not in the near future anyway.

The likes of Wales, Ireland, Argentina, England and even South Africa must have pondered what different rugby forces they would be should they have access to Carter. He was the man who set the All Blacks alight in Edinburgh; the man who elevated the All Blacks from functional to outstanding at times during their 51-22 slaughter of Scotland.

ALL BLACKS V SCOTLAND - PLAYER RATINGS

The first five-eighth talent on show throughout the opening weekend of November tests was quite dismally underwhelming. Rhys Priestland was indecisive and inaccurate for Wales; Johnny Sexton of Ireland will have to check with team-mates whether he really did play; Nicolas Sanchez of Argentina dropped more passes than goals; and Pat Lambie would have been excellent had the object of the game been to boot the ball aimlessly up in the air.

Toby Flood can't be judged properly in a 50-point rout of Fiji.

Carter was refreshingly excellent - as good as he's been in ages. The barometer of his form and general fitness is his running game: when that is on, it means he's in the mental zone and the body is limber - telling him he's still young, still got it.

That much was obvious at Murrayfield where twice in 30 seconds he coasted through a Scottish defensive line that made the cardinal sin of being sluggish off the mark. Carter only needed a sniff and he was away.

"If you give a guy like that time and space then he will pull the strings," reckoned Scotland coach Andy Robinson. "He is a fantastic rugby player and the quality he has of getting you into a rhythm as if he is going to pass the ball, then he takes a hold of you and he just sucks you into it. He'll pass, pass, pass and then suddenly he goes [runs] and that is the quality of the man and when he breaks the line, the team normally scores from it."

It wasn't just his running, though, that elevated him so obviously ahead of the other international 10s on show. The decision-making was effortless and immaculate. His goal kicking was near perfect and he took control of his inexperienced midfield and guided them through the encounter.

"Pretty handy with the ball and pretty handy with the boot," said All Black coach Steve Hansen. "About the only thing he did wrong you could say was to give them an intercept try, but really that was a reflection about how he was taking the ball to the line and I thought he caused them a lot of problems when he did that."

Carter is back to something approximating his best which is unlikely to help the British Lions prospects of either Priestland or Flood. How, when Wales and England respectively clash with the All Blacks, could either of these two look good when compared with Carter?

They don't have his range. They don't have his vision or innate understanding of how to dismantle an opponent.

This tour is shaping up as affirmation that Carter is King and the pretenders, those touted as potential heirs apparent, are really more court jesters.

- NZ Herald

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