Twelve years ago, Dan Carter produced what was as close to the perfect performance from a first five-eighths as humanly possible when he scored 33 points against the British and Irish Lions.
The Herald remembers Carter's feats in the second test in Wellington ahead of this Saturday's clash between the All Blacks and the Lions at the same venue.
The television pictures were eloquent as Daniel Carter drove the All Blacks to the 2005 series win against the Lions with a spectacular points haul at the Cake Tin.
There in the background, gasping at the audacious skills of his rival, was Lions opposite Jonny Wilkinson, a man with more than 50 tests experience who had guided England to their World Cup triumph and once again was coach Clive Woodward's redemptive hope.
Wilkinson was all about training and then more training as his obsessive character, allied to strong core skills, drove him to regular heights in the game. He knew what it took to scale the summits of the game and here was a 23- year-old going past him without a pickaxe.
Carter had zoomed down a tight corridor and, when confronted by the last defender, the young five-eighths nudged the ball in-goal and powered to the touchdown. As the last cover defender, Wilkinson had to admire the grace of this young man in his sixth start in the black No 10 jersey.
Before he led the All Blacks scoring torrent that July evening a decade ago, Carter had only started in that role against Italy, Wales, France, Fiji and the Lions.
Coach Graham Henry had used Carlos Spencer but was not convinced he was the best investment as the long-term successor to Andrew Mehrtens. He wanted to assess Carter and decided the best chance was on the 2004 end-of-year tour without the influence of Mehrtens or Justin Marshall.
Carter played every minute as the All Blacks easily fended off Italy and France and escaped with a solitary-point win against Wales. It had been a great education and Henry was convinced Carter was set for the test series with the Lions.
The initial All Blacks victory in chilly conditions at Christchurch was eclipsed by Lions protests about the injury to their captain Brian O'Driscoll and the political grandstanding from Woodward and his media adviser Alastair Campbell. All the galling notions about the Power of One and contrived training sessions were blown away by the Lions excessive reaction to the loss of their captain and the opening test.
The buildup throughout the second test week in Wellington was spiteful. When the Lions fullback Gareth Thomas scored first, there was no hint of the All Blacks' 48-18 victory, no sign of the 33 points Carter was going to accrue with two tries, five penalties and four conversions.
Talk about sitting the Lions party back on their bloated rump and raising Carter as the go-to five-eighths for another decade. The All Blacks were superior across the park while Carter was on a magic carpet ride.
He was fallible. One sideline conversion of Sitiveni Sivivatu's try missed its mark and he left the park late with a shoulder injury but the series was well sorted by then.
Radio Sport commentary: Carter sets up try for Tana Umaga
Radio Sport commentary: Carter kicks another - 'The guy is so composed'
It had been a dozen years since the last Lions tour when the series went to an Eden Park conclusion after the tourists squared the results at Athletic Park. This time they withered in the capital. All the fractious suspense generated from the Lions previous 2001 tour to Australia under Graham Henry's direction disappeared as Henry and the All Blacks turned up the wick on the tourists.
The pack was more ruthless than the Lions, they bossed the match and that edge allowed the talents of Carter to run free in a test where his work was as sharp as any of his lengthy All Blacks portfolio.
The Cake Tin was a setting for All Blacks excellence and confirmation Carter was a standard-bearer in that team.
Short of finding a bearded lady or fire-eating monkey, it's not easy to imagine how the Lions could have turned the build-up to the second test of the 2005 series against the All Blacks into any more of a circus.
The big-tent antics began in the small hours following the first test loss in Christchurch. Incensed, probably rightly, at the lack of official action taken against All Blacks captain Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu for their role in dislocating Brian O'Driscoll's shoulder in the first minute, Lions coach Sir Clive Woodward called a press conference at midnight.
There was another the next day in Wellington, this time with former Prime Minister Tony Blair's infamous spin doctor, Alistair Campbell, masterminding a video propaganda show that had some of the British tabloid hacks almost roaring with outrage at the injustice of it all and the arrogance of those damned colonials thinking they could get away with it.
If the Lions ever had a plot, they lost it that week. They had been destroyed all over the pack in Christchurch - their lineout had collapsed, their scrum was poor, they were second in the collisions at the breakdown and, had a dastardly southerly not whipped through that night, the All Blacks could have run up a cricket score.
Audio: Steve Hansen on Carter 2005 - ' We know we've got a superstar'
Audio: Second test summation
The Lions, though, seemed convinced the game changer was the O'Driscoll incident - that if their skipper hadn't been taken out the test would have been in their pocket. That line developed momentum as the week developed, as did the clamouring for Umaga to publicly explain his actions. The British media had become an unruly mob and were demanding Umaga and the All Blacks break their silence on the tackle that had somehow avoided a citation.
Umaga fronted - at NZRU headquarters - on the Wednesday and, as he took his seat to face the assembled media throng, the rest of the squad followed behind and took up position behind their skipper. Arms folded, staunch faces, the intention of coming en masse wasn't just to show their support, but to presumably try to intimidate the fiestiest elements of the press corps who weren't happy letting the issue lie.
It kind of worked as the Brits lost their nerve or interest after 20 minutes of questioning that failed to break Umaga into admitting he was up there with Stalin and Hitler as one the world's most evil men.
What got lost in the sideshow was that the Lions were a fairly awful team. Having lost patience with the O'Driscoll reaction, the whole of New Zealand wanted to see the Lions thumped in the second test and perhaps that desire was the reason no one wanted to admit the visitors might have struggled to have given Romania a decent game.
That's despite the warning signs having clearly been there. The Lions were not only populated with old, broken players, they were managed by a coach whose last good idea had been two years previously.
The Lions struggled to beat all their provincial opposition bar the hapless Manawatu. They had little flow or imagination and were playing a game that might have worked for the gargantuan English pack of 2003, but wasn't right for the diverse range of talents within the Lions.
Sir Clive really did think plod-and-probe rugby would flummox the All Blacks. He had convinced himself that all they needed was a good set-piece and, as it turned out, they didn't even have that.
They were an unhappy bunch who were all so easily beaten on a perfect Wellington evening that couldn't raise even a puff of wind.
Not quite everyone who bore witness was overjoyed with Dan Carter's outstanding display against the Lions a decade ago.
Sir Clive Woodward, for one, described as "horrible" the experience of being on the receiving end of one of the best individual performances in a black jersey.
The World Cup-winning coach, who oversaw the luckless 2005 tour, can at least now reflect on Carter's exploits with a mix of awe and envy, although it was tough to find magnanimity at the time.
"He announced himself as one of the best players of the modern era," Woodward recently wrote in the Daily Mail. "His display in the second test was one of the most polished and accomplished I have seen from a player.
"He nearly scored a hat-trick of tries, he collected his chips, he stepped players and his passing was electric. In one of the greatest All Black teams in history - including the likes of Tana Umaga, Mils Muliaina, Richie McCaw - he was the star of the side. It was horrible to be on the receiving end."
Former England lock and Sunday Telegraph journalist Paul Ackford was similarly effusive in his praise, writing at the time that Carter's "sublime contribution" saw Jonny Wilkinson and the Lions blown away.
"New Zealand's outside-half, just 23, ended with a personal haul of 33 points and virtually defeated the Lions on his tod," Ackford wrote. "Jonny who? Carter is now the new superstar of the global game beyond any question. The All Blacks to a man were better than the Lions, but in Daniel Carter we saw one of the finest international displays at outside-half."
It's a display that has certainly withstood the test of time, with the legend only growing in subsequent years. Forget about comparing Carter's deeds to those of others in rugby; the Daily Mail's Chris Foy, reminiscing in 2009 about what he had watched, was forced to look across codes to provide context for Carter's performance.
"It was once said of Nick Faldo that he had conquered golf - he had beaten the game," Foy wrote. "Well, against the Lions in Wellington four years ago, Carter seemed to conquer rugby. The majesty of his performance was astonishing. It defied belief at times.
Two years after his international debut, he touched the stars.
"What caught the eye was the certainty and conviction about everything he did, the total belief in his skills - the passing, kicking, tackling, running. Everything clicked, everything came off."
With all facets firing, it was no surprise for the Guardian's Michael Aylwin to call Carter unstoppable. But a genius? A 10-out-of-10 player? There were no limits to the eulogising of the opposition press.
"There was a team, orchestrated by a genius, who was by turns brutal and poetic," Aylwin wrote. "The question 'Have you ever seen anyone play better than that?' was asked at the post-match press conference an embarrassing number of times, sometimes by the same person of the same coach. It was as if we were still checking that it had really happened.
"One of the trickier philosophical questions facing the marks-out-of-10 guy - is there such a thing as the perfect performance? Should a 10 out of 10 ever be awarded?
Sometimes, though, you have to cast such precious thinking aside and marvel at what one man is capable of. We've seen the kicking, we've seen the playmaking, we've seen the temperament, and we saw the power of a back-row forward as well. There seems to be nothing he can't do."
Aaron Mauger had one of the best views in the house that night playing outside Dan Carter. He chats to Patrick McKendry about what it was like.
Q. What are your recollections of that British and Irish Lions test playing outside Carter?
A. I remember that he performed pretty well. There has been a lot of talk about the performance over the years. It was just one of those games where everything he touched turned to gold. I suppose when he has been at his best, that is what his game has looked like. He's run the game well, he's sharp with the ball in hand, he's physical on defence ... when he's at his best he's the complete package and I suppose that test was the best example of it.
Q. Obviously you played our part, too, but did you feel you had a good view of the action outside him?
A. Yes, definitely. There was no better place, really. The whole team performed well that day, too. Dan performed and his individual performance helped the team get a result. All of those things gelled quite nicely and we managed to clinch the series. I actually remember early on in the game we were down 13-3, or something - they had scored a couple of tries and kicked a couple of goals and had us under the pump for a while - but once we settled into the game we got on top of them and Dan was able to unleash. I actually pulled my hamstring just before halftime so I only played for half the test.
Q. He seemed to create a lot of time and space for himself but also potentially for the other backs as well. What was it about his game which created that?
A. It's hard to pinpoint. One individual can only perform that well if the team is performing well. The team certainly helped lay that platform for Dan to express himself. We were fortunate enough to be able to do that. A guy like him, he's a special player, really. He can make the most of any space given to him.
A. They were a good team. There was a lot of hype around it. We had a good year that year so we were playing some good footy as well and were up for the challenge. We had heard a lot of talk about how good they were going to be. I remember before they headed over, there was talk about the set piece and big Andrew Sheridan and Carl Hayman was licking his chops every time he heard that - people talking about Andrew Sheridan coming to scrum us into the ground. As a group, we were really up for the challenge and managed to perform well over all three tests, which was very satisfying.
Q. Where you guys a happy outfit in the changing room afterwards?
A. Definitely. We were happy to wrap up the series after the second test. There was talk of making it a whitewash and making it 3-0 and the focus went on to the third test pretty shortly afterwards.
Q. The Lions are a unique team. Is that why the All Blacks tend to lift their game for them?
A. They only come once every 12 years so a lot of guys go through their entire career without getting a chance to play against them. It certainly is special to play against them. For our guys, now they play so much footy, it's hard to look beyond each weekend. They're playing 15 tests a year now and they're playing 17-18 Super Rugby games so it's a pretty full-on schedule for our top players so I don't think they look too far ahead. But it is a lure for the players, especially some of our older guys who have watched a lot of Lions tours.
This article was first published on July 2, 2015 for the 10-year anniversary of Carter's performance against the Lions