Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Carter puts emphasis on improving

Goalkicking the only question mark as refreshed pivot relishes job at No 12.

Dan Carter, refreshed after his break away from the game and energised by his performance against the Sharks and the opportunities of the week ahead, is promising more.

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The All Blacks No10, excelling in his role at second-five for the Crusaders outside Colin Slade, expects an improvement from his team for the final against the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday night, and, just as importantly for a winner-takes-all match, better accuracy from his goalkicking.

It appears his six-month sabbatical, which coincided with his Achilles injury, has boosted his energy and enthusiasm levels, but has done little to improve his kicking radar. Carter kicked only five from nine at AMI Stadium in the 38-6 semifinal victory, replicating the success rate of the match before, the final round-robin game against the Highlanders. He remains relaxed about it, but some of the misses were relatively easy kicks.

"That's a couple of games on the trot now so obviously match kicking is different to doing it on the training paddock," he said. "I'm kicking well in training but I'm not executing on the field. I'm sure it will be better next week."

Carter's calm presence was crucial for the Crusaders as they set about dismantling the Sharks. His skills will be crucial in Sydney, as will the performance of his forwards, who set a perfect platform. The Waratahs pack is very big, but their Crusaders' opposites will back themselves to make life difficult for them.

Corey Flynn's ball carrying, Owen Franks' defending, the lineout work of Sam Whitelock and Dominic Bird, and the overall influence exerted by loose forwards Richie McCaw, Matt Todd and Kieran Read went to a new level against a team who play with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. In the end the Sharks couldn't even take pride in their set piece; Bismarck du Plessis and Co losing control of their lineout and even conceding a try to Willi Heinz from a defensive scrum, one of five which the rampant home team scored.

"They're very good at it and that's why they've got so far in this competition, but when our forward pack steps up and provides quality set- piece ball for us and puts their set piece under pressure, it really takes a lot away from their game so huge credit must go to our forward pack and the way they stepped up," Carter said.

"Finals footy, it isn't going to be special things that win finals, it's about doing the little things really well. Just building on what we've developed throughout the year, there's not going to be any special plays or anything. Who wins this competition will be the team that works the hardest and wants it the most. We've been frustrated losing the semis for the last couple of years so to get one step closer is very exciting."

Carter played in the past two semifinal defeats to the Chiefs, two matches in which the Crusaders had to get there the hard way - away from home and after playing qualifiers.

This year there is a freshness about the team which is personified by Carter. With their commanding victory, Todd Blackadder's team have momentum and players in form unhindered by injury.

"It's been great, I wish I could do it every year, just come back for the playoffs but I don't think I'll be allowed that," Carter said of his break. "Coming back into the team has been seamless and I've been welcomed back into the environment. They had created something special before I even returned so I'm just trying to add to that and contribute wherever possible."

- APNZ

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