Carter ready to start Bledisloe clash
October 25, 2010
Dan Carter's last appearance for the All Blacks was in the Tri-Nations win over South Africa in August © Getty Images
New Zealand fly-half Daniel Carter is set to start the Bledisloe Cup clash with Australia on Saturday, despite assistant coach Wayne Smith warning he may lack the match fitness to last the entire game.
Carter ran freely during the team's first serious training session on Monday since arriving from Auckland, an encouraging sign ahead of the fourth and final trans-Tasman test of the year at Hong Kong Stadium.
The influential playmaker has been recovering from ankle surgery and has not played since the Tri-Nations title-clincher against South Africa at Soweto on August 22. But Carter, who impressed during a pre-departure game in Auckland last Saturday, now looks set to make a seamless return as the All Blacks attempt to open their end-of-year Grand Slam tour with a record 11th consecutive victory over Australia.
"He's very good," Smith said. "He doesn't need a lot of managing, he knows what's needed and he sets about doing it."
Smith said there were no concerns about Carter's base fitness although there were reservations about his ability to last 80 minutes. "I wouldn't have thought so," said Smith, in regard to Carter's prospects of finishing the game. "The game intensity with the contact takes its toll. You'd expect at some stage Stephen (Donald) will get on but he (Carter) has amazed us before."
Carter has a history of picking up where he left off following an enforced break. He missed eight months of last season after suffering an Achilles injury while on sabbatical in France and saved the All Blacks from defeat in Sydney on the back of one club game and two provincial outings for Canterbury.
Smith, meanwhile, was also positive about Sitiveni Sivivatu's return from shoulder reconstruction, suggesting the wing could be considered for the test against England at Twickenham on November 6 providing he gets through this weekend's provincial semi-final for Waikato against Auckland.
Drawing a parallel with utility back Isaia Toeava's comeback from a hip injury, Smith was confident Sivivatu would join the squad in London on Monday primed for action. "He and Ice (Toeava) hit pbs (personal bests) with the condition they presented themselves in, they were three or four kgs lighter, they were fitter and quicker," Smith said. "Ice showed how quickly he was able to get up to match speed for Auckland. I think Siti will be the same for Waikato."
With Carter on the road to recovery and concerns over hooker Keven Mealamu's calf injury easing, the All Blacks selectors are unlikely to deviate from the optimum line-up who finished strongly to pip the Wallabies 23-22 at Sydney on September 11.
Israel Dagg and Piri Weepu are not on tour due to injury, while Carter's deputy then, Aaron Cruden, and loose forward Victor Vito, who started ahead of Jerome Kaino, missed selection after failing to impress in Sydney.
Smith said rather than focus on continuing their dominance over the Wallabies - and prolonging their current 15-test winning sequence - the team were intent of improving their game after an edgy completion of the Tri-Nations.
"With us it's more about us getting our game going again," Smith said. "We were really good in (the June internationals) and at the start of the Tri-Nations and we fell off a bit. Some little things we put a lot of work into early on we started taking for granted. A big focus for us is getting the detail right, getting the clarity and raising performance."
Maintaining communication in defence was one area requiring attention while Smith also emphasised the need to complete accurate lifts at restarts and lineouts - appropriately so after Brad Thorn was thudded to the ground during a drill in a session conducted before a group of school children.
The Wallabies also continued their training regime and took no comfort from the fact that Carter, Richie McCaw and Kieran Read would figuratively be coming in cold after bypassing the domestic provincial competition.
"I don't think it's an advantage, none of our guys have been playing," Australian wing Drew Mitchell said.
Loose forward Richard Brown was more forthright. "It would be the silliest thing in the world to suggest we're better off for Richie not playing NPC. You're leaving yourself open to be smacked in the face."
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