Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

100 Greatest All Blacks - 1st XV: No 5 Daniel Carter

From Southbridge to superstar-the accolades have accompanied Daniel Carter throughout his All Black career as he has filled the NZRU and personal trophy displays.

Carter added to the five eighths luxuries the All Blacks enjoyed since the first World Cup with Grant Fox then Andrew Mehrtens guiding the team to regular success.

He got his international grounding at second five eighths in 2003 against Wales in Hamilton, when he also collected orders from referee Alan Lewis to speed up his kicks at goal.

Goal kicking practice led to Carter's demise at the 2011 World Cup when he tore a tendon in his groin the day before he was to captain the All Blacks against Canada.

The All Blacks won the tournament and Carter received a winners' medal but in some ways he felt as empty as the semifinal loss in 2003 and the quarterfinal exit in 2007.

As he nears the end of his sabbatical, Carter is eyeing a return to test rugby and a fourth tilt at the World Cup next year. Defending the global crown would give Carter the connection he missed at Eden Park three years ago.

"I have a medal and I stayed part of the squad but it didn't feel the same as being out there on the pitch," he said.

"While the All Blacks want to become the first team ever to win back to back World Cups, there's also some personal unfinished business for me."

It is a clear intent from someone who has kept his work hovering around his peak levels for more than a decade and who aims to maintain that intensity until the end of next year.

Carter is all technique and courage in the front line on defence, he has never been shunted off to the wing or fullback to protect him from those confrontations but the conflicts have taken some toll.

An array of leg and foot injuries, shoulder problems, cuts and hand injuries gathered in recent clumps as Carter struggled towards his 100th test at Twickenham before limping off with an Achilles strain.

Months before, Carter announced he would not play any rugby in 2014 until midway through the year. He needed to sort out his injuries and undergo a lengthy fitness and training regime to get his body ready for continuous rugby.

''So the timing was tough, but I just love playing in the black jersey and all going well I'll potentially only miss three All Black games,'' he forecast.

His return is approaching while test colleagues Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett have been adding to their experiences in the Super 15 and will soon be in test combat with England.

They are two gifted young men who have sharpened their games to the different rhythm of test rugby and will make Carter work hard to reclaim his All Black jersey.

Carter, in any decent shape, will get up to All Black measure quickly where the other part of his armoury, the killer edge behind the fresh façade, will add to his venom.

A decade ago after watching Carter in his squad, deposed All Black coach John Mitchell proposed a change to strengthen the side.

"I'd have Daniel Carter as my first-five," Mitchell said. "Carlos (Spencer) is a wonderful talent but he has shown at the highest level a tendency to premeditate his attack and I don't think you could train that out of him. You've got to start building three years out from the next World Cup so I'd start Daniel Carter."

Injury bit into Carter's work in that next campaign and then eliminated him from 2011. Soon we will see how he is shaping in his bid to last the distance.

Date of birth: 5 March 1982
Position: First five-eighth
Matches: 100
Tests: 100
Test debut: 21 June 2003 v Wales, Hamilton
Province: Canterbury
Franchise: Crusaders
Test tries: 29
Test points: 1440

- NZ Herald

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