The moment of truth may have arrived for a great All Black because Daniel Carter was a shadow of his former self in Paris.

While the other legendary veteran, Richie McCaw, hurled himself into yet another battle, Carter was pedestrian despite a promising start when he helped give Cory Jane the hint of a try chance. Carter hardly ran again, nor pulled out any of his old magic, and departed before three-quarter time after mirroring the lacklustre 50 minutes he produced in Japan.

Coach Steve Hansen may be facing his first Big Tricky Moment. Carter is on 99 tests, and the famous Twickenham stadium would be an appropriate venue for the century as the All Blacks seek redress for a sound beating last year.

For my money, Aaron Cruden or Beauden Barrett not only deserve the start, but should be positioned towards the No10 jersey for the next World Cup. Cruden, the front-runner, can't be said to have made the absolute most of Carter's absence and struggles, but Twickers is the perfect place to test his mettle and call for his best shot. There must be far more energy in those younger, talented legs and his goalkicking needs to be honed under pressure.


McCaw, meanwhile, no longer carries the ball with the old gusto and his mana and captaincy is counterproductive if it means the All Blacks waste Sam Cane on the bench. But this remarkable character still produced another relentless performance.

As two fantastic All Blacks head towards the twilight years, it is the tireless flanker who - surprisingly perhaps - appears in the better shape. If Carter gets the nod against England, he will do so on reputation.

Good, but not good enough
Stade de France looked every inch the battleground, its turf torn and the All Blacks manning the trenches in the final minutes, with France heaving towards the goal-line and in the sight of a sort of victory although officially a draw.

France have a habit of saving their best for New Zealand, and yet were not good enough. The All Blacks are set towards recording an unbeaten year. The actual ground was shifting badly yesterday, but the world rankings remain rock solid at the top.

Even if they fall at a late hurdle - as is always a possibility - the truth for world rugby is that far from risking climbing minor peaks at the risk of falling off the World Cup mountain, the All Blacks are drawing away.

They've got seriously good newcomers popping up all over the place, and if centre remains a problem position beyond Conrad Smith, then it is only a minor one compared with the deficiencies that other countries are dealing with.

France were brave but they still lost, at home. The All Blacks didn't play all that well by their standards and still won, away.

Piutau has goods for centre
Charles Piutau, the Auckland Express, has instantly stamped himself as the real deal in test rugby. He charges like a runaway train, can spot an opportunity a mile away, showed excellent composure to finish a kick-and-chase try and threw a glorious pass to create one for Kieran Read.

Indeed, he looks to have the goods to be a terrific centre, and much more so than the lightweight Ben Smith. For now, wing may be Piutau's best place. But down the track, when the blinkers come off and the vision grows, he could be a sensation at No13. The Blues are apparently considering using the Super 15 fullback at centre next year. (One slight quibble - Piutau may have been offside for his try, ahead of Ben Smith the kicker.)

Turf troubles
Something is very wrong with European turf culture. The Millennium Stadium surface in Cardiff was a mess for the opening game of the rugby league World Cup. But that looked like a billiard table compared with the Stade de France, which cut up rough during the All Blacks' tense victory over France.

The ground was dug so deep it looked like something that needed a building permit. But wait, there's more.

Murrayfield in Edinburgh has been ravaged by worms. Added to that, men with forks could be seen prodding Thomond Park in Limerick during halftime at a rugby league World Cup match. More turf problems? Perhaps they were searching for Irish defenders, who weren't easy to spot against Australia.

Leuluai: from bad to worse
The Thomas Leuluai affair is more than just an embarrassment for the Kiwis. The champions have a player unfit to take any part in the World Cup, a situation highlighted when he limped off after just a few minutes of action against Papua New Guinea. To add insult to injury, the Kiwis got themselves involved in a messy situation around performance-enhancing drugs, as they tried to circumvent a United Kingdom ruling that they could not use an anti-inflammatory to treat Leuluai's groin. Whatever the technicalities, this is not a good look. The danger for the Kiwis is that Issac Luke, their star dummy half, is carrying too much of a workload after a long NRL season. Luke is on fire, but needs rest and protection. It was surprising that Elijah Taylor wasn't used instead against the struggling Kumuls. The Kiwi halves also lack back-up with Leuluai gone.