Thu, Aug 23, 2007 - Page 19 News List

France 2007: Carter hoping to peak at right time

AFP , WELLINGTON

All Black flyhalf Dan Carter runs the ball against the Springboks in Christchurch, New Zealand, on July 14.

PHOTO: AFP

History shows the rugby World Cup is won by the team with the best flyhalf, which underscores the importance of pin-up pivot Daniel Carter in an All Blacks side desperate to end a 20-year drought.

Carter, 25, is openly rated by his peers and predecessors as the best in the business, and he has accumulated the statistics to match.

His brief but stellar career is studded with international awards and record-breaking performances, headlined by an unequalled 33 points in the second Test against the British and Irish Lions in 2005.

It was that achievement which prompted Lions assistant coach Eddie O'Sullivan to first label the then 23-year-old Carter as the top No. 10 in the world.

He has everything going for him -- for the rugby afficionado he is an exceptional talent, while his 1.78m, 91kg physique, stripped down as an underwear model for Jockey, has made him a hearthrob.

In soccer parlance, Carter is New Zealand's brand equivalent of David Beckham coupled with the playing genius of Cristiano Ronaldo -- which is why his rare form slump in the countdown to France 2007 has become a national concern.

Even on an off-day Carter is still one of the best, but in the sport's hottest cauldron -- rugby-obsessed New Zealand -- a slight drop in his lofty standards has made him the target of national criticism.

A couple of missed line kicks and penalty attempts, and an absence of his usual creativity when the All Blacks lost 15-20 to Australia in Melbourne, saw talkback radio flooded with amateur analysis.

It was a measure of Carter's character that he freely fronted up to his critics.

"I'm not overly happy with the way I'm playing and have room for improvement," the 2005 International Rugby Board's Player of the Year agreed.

But he is confident of regaining his peak powers by the time the World Cup reaches the crucial knockout stage.

"To improve I need to get involved and get the ball into my hand a lot more. I've got to be the general, call the moves and direct play," he said.

It was a blunt admission from a player known for his modesty.

"He's the best I've ever coached. Anyone who works so hard and is so damn tough -- they're only going to be off their best for a short time," All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith said.

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