Gregor Paul 's Opinion

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Carter, McCaw are a step above...and that's not changing

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Dan Carter and Richie McCaw will still be playing at their standout level over the next few years. Photo / Getty Images
Dan Carter and Richie McCaw will still be playing at their standout level over the next few years. Photo / Getty Images

The instant it was confirmed Dan Carter and Richie McCaw had signed until 2015, it seemed everyone wanted to challenge the wisdom of their contracts.

Perhaps it's the natural inclination of New Zealand rugby fans to be sceptical, doubtful and a little scornful even of two of the very best players to have graced the world stage. No one has much confidence that either Carter or McCaw will still be must-pick All Blacks by 2015.

Questioning McCaw is fair enough. He's 31, has played more than 100 tests in a position that frankly you'd have to be a lunatic to enjoy. Openside flankers take a pounding like no one else; their bodies exposed to all sorts of torture as they forage for the ball. It is a miracle that McCaw has managed to play as much as he has in the last decade - that his injuries have been reasonably light in comparison with others.

But how much has this great warrior got left? Can he preserve his agility and maintain that great engine? Yes, he probably can as just like Madonna, McCaw is masterful at re-invention.

His game evolves and adapts to meet his changing athletic prowess and shifting global patterns.

In a few weeks he'll return to Super Rugby and remind everyone that he's still the best there is and frankly, with a bit of luck and good management, he'll do the same in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

It's not as if McCaw sits at home all day, fingers crossed merely hoping he'll somehow be okay when he returns to action. He works to a detailed plan, knowing what he wants to achieve every day and what he wants to achieve in his career.

It is the same with Carter who we may in fact be a player whose best work has not yet been seen. He was quite sensational when he carved open the Lions in 2005, but there were weaknesses in his game, too, back then. Not now.

It took him two minutes to show his class when he returned for the Crusaders last week. Just having him on the field settled those around him and week by week, Carter will build his game. Come the Rugby Championship, he'll be imperious - the perfect first five, a more rounded player than he was in 2005.

That was becoming apparent at the World Cup until injury intervened. Carter's tactical control, defensive clout and kicking game were in a magical space and his running game was edging back to its best.

He can't be judged on his running game alone - such a view fails to understand the totality and complexity of his value. The emerging Beauden Barrett and Aaron Cruden have promising attacking games, but they are barely in the same league as Carter when it comes to understanding the ebb and flow of a test and picking where the space is; understanding when to play territory and when to be more adventurous.

These are the critical skills of a test first five and Carter has no peer now and probably won't still by 2015.

- Herald on Sunday

Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer. He has written several books on rugby including the Reign of King Henry, Black Obsession and For the Love of the Game.

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