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Carter has endured a host of frustrating injuries over the years, which have curtailed his ability to enjoy a consistent run in the Test arena during recent seasons.
In 2012, he sustained hamstring, calf and Achilles injuries and played in only nine of the All Blacks’ 14 Test matches, while in 2013 he suffered another array of ailments that restricted him to six Tests. Last year, he missed the Rugby Championship after cracking his fibula in the Vodacom Super Rugby final, this despite the fact he had just returned from a six-month sabbatical aimed at extending his longevity.
Besides his fitness issues, Carter was regularly deployed at inside centre in this year’s Super Rugby season, where he played outside Colin Slade for the Crusaders.
Carter is living embodiment of the saying ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’, but he looked a shadow of his former self against the Wallabies last weekend.
When operating at the peak of his powers, Carter’s game management is unmatched, but it does appear that the veteran is lacking the speed and confidence to control proceedings as he used to.
There were a number of uncharacteristic errors from Carter in Sydney, most tellingly with the boot, but it was just one part of a generally out-of-sorts performance from the All Blacks.
The 33-year-old has quite rightly retained his place for this Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup decider, and he surely remains coach Steve Hansen’s first-choice flyhalf ahead of the World Cup.
However, with his match fitness building steadily, he now needs to find some form, and an imperious performance on Saturday would undoubtedly go a long way to an All Blacks win in Auckland.
Ma’a Nonu returns to inside centre for this clash, and the old firm of Carter-Nonu and Conrad Smith in the 10-12-13 channel could be the ideal tonic to help the experienced flyhalf rediscover his mojo.
The mercurial Quade Cooper will line up opposite Carter, and the respective performances of the two pivots is sure to be a decisive feature in Saturday’s encounter.
Carter also needs to produce a far more assured goal-kicking performance, particularly considering the Wallabies have opted to start scrumhalf Nic White, who has the ability to knock over long-range efforts.
Carter, though, holds the key to a potential All Blacks backlash.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: All Blacks 104, Wallabies 42, Draw 7
In Australia: All Blacks 48, Wallabies 25, Draw 6
STATS AND FACTS
– Australia ended a run of 10 Tests against New Zealand without a win last Saturday (lost eight, drawn two).
– The All Blacks’ eight-match winning run was broken at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium last weekend.
– The Wallabies are aiming to lift the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2002 when they claimed the cup for the fifth time in a row.
– New Zealand have won their last 15 Tests against Australia at Eden Park.
– Adam Ashley-Cooper has scored more tries against New Zealand (nine) than any other player.
– Nehe Milner-Skudder became the first All Black to score two tries on Test debut against Australia since Bruce Watt in 1962.
– New Zealand were last defeated at Eden Park in July 1994. They drew their next game at the venue in August 1994 and since then have won 33 in a row in Auckland.
– These sides ranked level for average points (28.3), tries (3.3) and penalty goals (2.3) in this year’s Rugby Championship.
– Australia beat the most defenders in the tournament, an average of 25.7, but the All Blacks averaged the most clean breaks (10.3).
All Blacks – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Victor Vito, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jerome Kaino, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Malakai Fekitoa.
Wallabies: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nic White, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Dean Mumm, 20 Kane Douglas, 21 David Pocock, 22 Matt Giteau, 23 Kurtley Beale.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)