Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Injuries threaten Carter's World Cup dream

Carter's still one of the best players in the game but sabbatical may be last chance to get his body right.

Dan Carter is congratulated by his father Neville after receiving his cap for playing 100 tests. Photo / Getty Images
Dan Carter is congratulated by his father Neville after receiving his cap for playing 100 tests. Photo / Getty Images

It's starting to feel that Dan Carter's sabbatical might be the last throw of the dice. His six months off next year won't have rest and rehabilitation as the key theme - it will be more about reconstruction.

The man many would rightfully see as the greatest All Black first-five, possibly even the best No 10 ever, is right now too frail and vulnerable to make any impact in test football. He managed 25 minutes at Twickenham, but in truth, for nearly 20 of those he was hobbling after damaging himself when he took the ball into the heavy traffic.

It was genuinely sad to see him denied his big day out. He wanted so much for his 100th to be memorable for all the right reasons. He's such a class act, such a decent bloke that it just didn't seem right that he wouldn't be able to go the distance at Twickenham.

But that's become fairly standard in the last two years to the extent that it's hard not to feel that Carter's sabbatical is now way more important than anyone connected with the All Blacks would like to admit.

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This year has been horrible for Carter. The training ground has claimed him a few times and he's only managed about 150 minutes of rugby in the last four times he's started.

For all his seeming natural athleticism, he's actually not that well put together. Combine that with the pounding he's taken in more than a decade of professional rugby and maybe it's little wonder that every bit of him appears either broken or about to break.

Some of his issues are caused by age. It's a rotten thing, but happens to everyone, that bits and pieces become strangely unreliable after 30 years of service.

A bit of his recent bad luck has been exactly that: no one is immune from the vagaries of the sport. Some of his pulls, strains and cracks are wear and tear and some of his dramas are caused by genetics, biology and physiology.

In a sense, though, the cause of his injury problems doesn't particularly matter. Everyone in the management of the All Blacks and Carter himself are now hoping that time off will sort out his medical woes. He's so damaged now that it feels his only hope of fulfilling his World Cup dream is to rest, rebuild and somehow come back to rugby with every problem fixed.

Are his various problems inter-related? Does protecting one part of his body lead to him damaging another. Fix the niggles and fix the man? Is that going to be the case? Will his sabbatical be the magic bullet and see him return to rugby bigger, stronger, fitter and faster. We haven't see Carter at his best - consistently at his best - since the early part of 2011.

There have been moments since - the test against Scotland last year being the obvious one - where he's been his old self.

It hasn't been enough.

Injury has taken too much out of him and the upcoming sabbatical is his chance to fight back and resurrect his career.

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