This week Matt and Jamie talk through some of the other nations...
Dan the Man isn’t finished yet
OPINION – Rugby World Cups have a knack of finding out teams, one way or another. Whether it’s the effect of playing test rugby week in week out that takes its toll on the fitness of a team/individual or the bizarre scenarios that South Africa experienced in Brighton on the first Saturday of the tournament, Rugby World Cups are peculiar beasts.
And it is a beast that All Black pivot Dan Carter hasn’t quite tamed in his 13 years at the top. On either sides of his World Cup appearances in 2003, 2007 and 2011, Carter’s easily been one of the best players in the world. However when the World Cup has come to town, his body’s struggled to come to terms with the strain that the tournament brings.
While he will be rugby’s richest player at the conclusion of the tournament after he takes up his contract with French Top 14 Club Racing Metro, flashes of brilliance in 2015 has showed that he’s not quite a spent force in black just yet.
The 2015 Rugby World Cup has so far seen a number of teams face horror injury tolls which has highlighted the strenuous environment of a World Cup.
But until now, for the exception of a few niggly injuries, Carter and New Zealand have managed to largely steer clear of the injury troubles. And Carter may be able to use his exceptional fitness at the tournament so far as a launch pad to really put the icing on his career.
It only takes a quick glimpse at the statistics to show how ineffective Carter has been at Rugby World Cups. Despite making his fourth appearance at a World Cup which is a feat in itself, Carter has played only 11 of 21 matches that New Zealand have featured in over the four campaigns (including the matches that he was on the bench and the matches where he came off injured).
Furthermore, he’s only scored just over 10% of New Zealand’s total points over those four World Cup which is nowhere near good enough, especially when placed alongside the greats.
Compare Carter’s statistics with those of former England great Jonny Wilkinson and there is little to discuss with Wilkinson scoring 31% of England’s total points as well as playing in 19 of England’s 25 total World Cup matches in the campaigns that he was a part of.
In addition to the injury troubles, few will argue with the notion that we haven’t yet seen the best of Carter this year. His Super Rugby season was interrupted by injury and he’s only really been able to start playing consistently since the beginning of the All Blacks’ international season. Providing he’s able to navigate the next few games and make it through to the quarters, he may be able to find the form that we all know him so well for.
No-one can forget the 2005 test series when he almost single-handedly blew the British and Irish Lions off the park. And while he may not be able to produce that kind of form again (old Father Time is rather cruel in that respect), he hasn’t looked fitter or freer in movement than he does at the moment.
At 33 years of age, it’s not an easy task for him to rediscover the form of 10 years ago, not to mention do it with the weight of a nation on his shoulders. But while he may not have that bullet-like pace from yesteryear, his assist for Dane Coles in the second game of the Bledisloe Cup this year as well as the way he made space for Sonny Bill Williams in the All Blacks first game of the Rugby World Cup against Argentina has showed that he has lost none of his touch or his ability to beat defenders.
It’s hard not to want Carter to achieve the unlikely at the Rugby World Cup this year after everything he’s given international rugby in the past 13/14 years. And at five years older than the oldest number 10 to start in a World Cup winning team and eight years older than the average age of a World Cup winning pivot, he is certainly up against it.
It’s tough to call Carter an underdog, especially as he plays for the no.1 ranked team in the world but his record and history shows that he is indeed an underdog at this year’s tournament.
One of the most deceptive with ball in hand as well as in defence, Carter has cemented himself as one of the best 10s of all time. But it is his World Cup record that detracts from his credentials as the best number 10 of all time. However, if he’s on the field in the 80th minute of the Rugby World Cup final, that blemish that has dogged his career for the past 12 years might just fade to black.