New Zealand have to face up to a difficult decision. In theory Dan Carter will be available for selection against Ireland but does Steve Hansen pick him? Carter’s severe groin injury when he tore his adductor muscle from the bone at the Rugby World cup has failed to heal as well as he, and the nation expected or hoped. There can be no doubt that Carter, the Crusaders and the NZRFU have been fastidious with Carter’s rehabilitation but it is clear that he is along way from his best.
No longer first choice outside half or kicker for the Crusaders, Carter is having to play at 2nd 5/8 (inside centre) and he is not finding it easy. In this unfamiliar position he looks out of sorts, rushed, hesitant and in discomfort. He is not moving well and his body language betrays his lack of self-belief. Both Carter and Hansen have informed the NZ rugby public that currently Carter, the record point’s scorer in world rugby with 1250 points, cannot kick with more than 50% accuracy. Hansen has admitted that if he were to pick Carter it would have to be at 2nd 5/8, not as goal kicker, but is he good enough to play there?
Dan Carter is simply not just a marquee player; he is a true icon of the game. The type of player rugby followers like to boast that they saw play. In his pomp his mastery of the game was total. He appeared to have so much more time on the ball than his peers. In every game he played in, the All Blacks were expected to win. His brilliant place kicking was matched by the yards he could gain with his booming left foot. He played without fear, accepting the risk of playing close to the gain line. Now having to play at 12, not his beloved no.10, the characteristic incomparable fluency and time on the ball appear to have deserted him. As the respected NZ rugby reporter Earle Kirton has offered, at no.12 Carter is not a threat and if you going to pick him, then it has to be at outside half.
Kirton has a point; Carter is an out and out fly-half and that is where he needs to play – and more to the point wants to play. Despite the fame and publicity Carter is at heart a rugby player and a winner and the only place he knows where he can be sure he can get his team to win is at outside half. But the brutal reality is that in the cut throat world of international rugby, he can only do that if he is fully fit. Achieving 50% of his kicks at goal on the training paddock is a long way from being good enough to kick for your country in the seething cauldron of an international match.
NFL studies have shown that athletes with torn abductor muscles progress more quickly through natural healing than taking the risk of surgery. But, according to a leading NZ orthopaedic surgeon, Matt Brick in a recent Sunday Times interview; Carter might have had to take a difficult choice. Without surgery Carter could have lost up to 15 metres from his kicking ability and a commensurate loss of accuracy as well. Brick also added that it could take Carter up to 18 months to be pain free and back to his best.
Can Hansen, the All Black fans and Carter himself be prepared to wait that long? Maybe they can. After all, Aaron Cruden is playing supremely well alongside Sonny Bill Williams and the now injured Kahui for the Chiefs who are enjoying an excellent Super 15. No-one would consider that a poor selection and they deserve their chance. Carter on the other hand is playing for a Crusaders side, who are stuttering and low on confidence suffering a shock defeat to the Rebels this week.
Perhaps like his team Carter needs to be given the chance to regroup. Carter could benefit from being taken out of the spotlight and given the chance to recover his form playing for his club and province, to regain his ability to dominate a game rather than risk him in the series against Ireland. Carter had made it plain that he wants to play in the RWC 2015 and help the All Blacks successfully defend their title as World Champions. The best chance to achieve that ambition is to listen to his body now and give it proper chance to heal.