Dan Carter 'very, very special player'
November 15, 2013
Dan Carter is relaxed ahead of his 100th Test appearance for New Zealand © Getty Images
Factfile: Dan Carter
Dan Carter might be reluctant to talk about his place in rugby's order of things, but Steve Hansen hasn't been reticent on the eve of the player's 100th Test, against England in London, when he will become the fifth All Blacks player to bring up his century - behind Crusaders team-mate Richie McCaw and hooker Keven Mealamu and prop Tony Woodcock of the team of the moment, and former fullback Mils Muliaina.
"Any All Black, to be able to sustain a career long enough to play 100 games is a special player," Hansen said. "But he [Carter] is probably one of the special, special ones."
Carter has suffered frustrating injuries since Rugby World Cup 2011, denying him the chance to reach 100 before this weekend, but Hansen expects his playmaker can play the full 80 minutes if necessary against England.
Hansen is in a unique position to assess Carter's career, as he was on the receiving end of the star's Test debut as coach of Wales.
"The very first [Test] he played was pretty sharp."
Carter appeared at second five-eighths, outside Carlos Spencer with Tana Umaga at centre: he scored a try and kicked six conversions and a penalty goal in New Zealand's 55-3 win at Hamilton.
"I happened to be coaching the opposition, he scored 20 points," Hansen said. "He played very, very well."
Carter continued to play at second five-eighths, with the odd substitution at fly-half, and it wasn't until his 15th Test, against Italy in Rome in 2004, that coach Graham Henry, and now selector Hansen, entrusted him with the starting role at No.10; Carter celebrated with a try and seven conversions.
He established himself in the position in the remaining games of the tour, with an outstanding contribution to a 45-6 hammering of France at Stade de France in which he scored a try and kicked four conversions and four penalty goals for a 25-point haul.
That set the scene for the following year, and what Hansen said was probably Carter's best game in the All Blacks jumper - the second Test against the British & Irish Lions. Carter scored 33 points as New Zealand won 48-18 to seal the series.
Dan Carter produced his best performance in the 2005 Wellington Test against the British & Irish Lions © Getty Images
Hansen said also that Carter's performance in the Rugby World Cup 2011 pool match against was outstanding. "It looked like he was going to have a great impact on that tournament until he got injured."
That groin injury sent tremors through the nation, and New Zealand's depths of five-eighths were tested before Stephen Donald famously filled the gap in the final with his match-winning penalty goal.
But there have been other frustrations, most notably the Achilles tendon tear while playing for Perpignan in France in 2009, the broken hand this year that saw him miss the June Tests against France, and the shoulder injury after he was tackled by Bismarck du Plessis' in the Rugby Championship Test at Eden Park.
Two contenders to eventually replace Carter, Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett - have emerged in his absences - "We're very fortunate we've got a young man who's becoming world-class in Crudes, and we've got another young player in Barrett who's not far behind," Hansen says - yet the man himself keeps bouncing back. And he has no designs and giving up the No.10 jumper any time soon.
Carter, 31, will take a six-month break after this tour to refresh his body and assess his targets, but he knows already that Rugby World Cup 2015 in England, with the final back at Twickenham, won't mark the end of his brilliant career.
"I'm not taking a break just to get to the World Cup," he said this week as he prepared for his 100th Test. "I want longevity. I want to play for a few years after the World Cup."
Carter said he could routinely go for a run the day after a Test at the beginning of his career, but body management now was a major part of his week.
"Things that may have worked for you for eight or 10 years are not going to work now, and you have to accept that and evolve," he said. "There has to be something within to get you out of bed every day to achieve the goals you set. As time goes on that becomes more challenging, but I still have that drive."
Cruden and Barrett loom as serious threats for the No.10 jersey, yet Hansen won't ignore Carter's determination to remain at the top.
"As long as he's got the desire and ability to perform, then we'll pick him, because he's going to be world-class," Hansen said. "It's pretty harsh judging a guy when this is the first time he's played three Tests in a row for the last 18 months."
Hansen is confident Carter's coming break will produce in him the positive impact that All Blacks captain Richie McCaw experienced after his sabbatical.
Flanker McCaw took a six-month break this year, and Hansen says the 32-year-old has returned to play the best rugby the coach has seen from his captain.
"We've seen it with Richard, when you've played as many Test matches as these guys, you need to step out of it both mentally and physically.
"For Dan, it's more of a physical thing."
Dan Carter is unchallenged as the best fly-half in rugby today © Getty Images
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