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Sky TV's Scotty Stevenson on rugby

Scotty Stevenson: Ignore the naysayers Dan's flame well alight

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New Zealand's Dan Carter in action. Photo / Getty Images
New Zealand's Dan Carter in action. Photo / Getty Images

Carter draws defenders like Darth Vader throttles insubordinate Death Star officers - it's all sleight of hand and mind control ... When Carter runs, no other first five-eighths can stay with him. It's the thing that has long set him apart from his peers.

There are some things I find hard to fathom in this world: parking charges at airports, the price of a glass of beer, the broad appeal of jogging, and women who wear gym tights in public as if they are something other than underwear, to name a few. But the thing that has me completely flummoxed at the moment is the lack of public faith in the ability of All Blacks first-five Dan Carter.

Carter, heading to Twickenham on 99 test caps, remains the world's premier first five-eighths. That is, unless you live in England, where Owen Farrell is considered the duck's nuts and Jonny Wilkinson the golden goose. Most New Zealand rugby fans don't get the Wilkinson thing - a shame really, because he is an outstanding player - but he proved earlier this year that you should never write off a class athlete.

You see, Wilkinson, at the tender age of 34 and having led his Toulon side to Heineken Cup glory by kicking 17 from 17 in the post-season, was named ERC's European player of the year. Ten years after his defining moment - namely that dropped goal against Australia to win the 2003 Rugby World Cup - Wilkinson was still dominating.

For most, Dan Carter's defining moment was the second test against the British and Irish Lions in 2005 at Wellington's Westpac Stadium. It was a display of outrageous quality, which included two tries, four conversions and five penalty goals.

The Lions were reduced to an unwilling audience at a one-man show.

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The 2015 RWC will mark 10 years since that epic performance. If Wilkinson can still be smouldering away a decade after setting the world on fire, then surely the least we could do would be to fan the flames of Carter's desire to drive the All Blacks to back-to-back World Cup success.

Whatever your thoughts on Carter's current form (and he'd be the last to claim he was at his absolute best against the French last week), this Twickenham test is a defining one for him. Last year he was outshone by England's upstart Farrell - something that would have gnawed away at him over the intervening 12 months.

The greats of the game understand when the stage is set for a bravura performance. That stage is Twickenham.

There are several reasons to think a Carter clinic is very much in the offing on Sunday morning. For starters, the All Blacks will hopefully avoid a stomach virus this time around, but given the great New Zealand tradition of not making excuses, even if those excuses are quite legitimate, we'll move on.

We can talk about Carter's running game which, despite what the doubters may tell you, and despite the fact it wasn't as complete as it could have been, was very much on show against the French. In fact, when Carter played first receiver, the All Blacks made metres. Carter draws defenders like Darth Vader throttles insubordinate Death Star officers - it's all sleight of hand and mind control. Watch his ball to Dagg for the Cory Jane try effort; watch his effortless draw ball to Ma'a Nonu in the second minute, or his poetic wrap around the same player in the 15th. When Carter runs, no other first five-eighths can stay with him. It's the thing that has long set him apart from his peers.

Carter will kick too. The All Blacks have relied all season on a kick-and-stick programme that had its worst day out against the French. That the All Blacks kicked the most metres in the Rugby Championship is often overlooked, but it was their ability to enforce the gainline advantage from the kick - that is, their chase and tackle play - that really created the pressure and the points. Expect Carter to take more control of the kick strategy this week, as they look to improve on what was a 20 per cent kick-gain deficit against the French. The English, too, won their kick battle last week. Carter's left foot could be the difference at Twickenham.

Ultimately though, it will be Carter's ability to rise to the occasion. Just as Wilkinson still knows when to make his plays count, so Carter will understand the spotlight is squarely on him in what is, regardless of the messages coming out of camp, a game inspired by revenge.

Like all the greats, Carter knows when to find that extra gear. When he does, England won't be able to live with him. Expect your faith in Carter to be restored.

I'll be watching, at the Waipu Bowling Club: the parking's still free, the beer's still cheap, you can't run on the greens and the women, mercifully, aren't walking around in underwear.

- NZ Herald

Scotty Stevenson

Sky TV's Scotty Stevenson on rugby

Scotty Stevenson is a Sky TV commentator and Editor of SKY Sport - The Magazine

Read more by Scotty Stevenson

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