The recent return of Dan Carter to the Crusaders’ ranks in the last few weeks has provided us with the first insight into what we can expect in the coming seasons from the talismanic fly-half.
Having dominated international rugby for nearly a decade, the All Blacks’ champion number 10 had his World Cup dreams dashed with a devastating groin injury, and is only now returning to full fitness.
But, as inevitably happens with ageing players, and players returning from serious injuries, the Carter we see in the coming years will be a different Carter from the one we’ve seen previously. We’ll likely see less of the first-five who chip kicked then re-gathered to score a phenomenal individual try against the British Lions in Wellington, but more of an experienced, wiser, play maker.
While it’s his injury that has robbed him of his speed, it is his age that will take away some of his youthful X-factor. Flamboyance is often tempered by the physical impact of international and professional rugby as well as the opposition’s efforts to study and counter a player’s style.
Some players become less inclined to throw a 50/50 pass or back themselves in a counter-attacking opportunity with time and experience. As the years have rolled on we’ve also seen Carter change and evolve as a player, and when he finally swaps the 12 jersey for his cherished Number 10 we’ll see further evidence of this.
Carter 2.0 will produce less of the phenomenal individual brilliance as the original version, but we should expect to see a more intelligent leader on the field who, like all sporting greats, will make those players around him better. With every big match Carter plays he cements his position as one of the international game’s most experienced current players, and with that comes an ability to read a game and his opposition, to dictate play and direct those around him, and an innate ability to make better decisions.
Just as Mils Muliana changed from a game-breaking, out-and-out speed freak to a safe and dependable 100-test fullback, the Carter of the future will be a more worldly, reliable and potentially predictable player. But that’s not to say he won’t be just as influential in every game he plays. Carter certainly remains head and shoulders above anyone else the World Champion All Blacks currently have in their system.