Rugby: What Losing Daniel Carter Means for the All Blacks
The All Blacks have suffered a massive blow just days before their first Rugby Championship game of 2013, losing star first five-eighth Daniel Carter to yet another injury which could sideline him for up to a month.
Carter will almost certainly be replaced by Aaron Cruden, who has taken the reins a number of times over the past two seasons while Carter has been injured. On these occasions he has shown himself to be an adequate option at international level.
While not quite in Carter's class, Cruden has the ability to win tight games and has shown that New Zealand do not indeed rely on Carter to win, as many felt was the case for a number of years.
Cruden's game has flourished since moving north to the Chiefs for the 2012 Super 15, where he has found a confidence that has allowed him to fulfil his potential and become the player many touted him to be.
His running game developed, showing the ability to take gaps and more crucially, take the ball to the line and put others into gaps. It is this that has made the Chiefs back line so dangerous over the past two seasons and is what will make the All Blacks hard to contain should they get the chance to play an open game in the upcoming weeks.
Defensively he is solid, not completely safe but he will generally make most of the tackles that come his way. His tactical kicking game has improved beyond measure too, and he is now capable of executing with the boot well.
This was highlighted no more so than in the second Test against France in June, where along with Israel Dagg and Aaron Smith, Cruden produced a superb display of kicking rugby while pinning the French in their own 22.
But he is no Carter. He just doesn't have the same tactical nous and the ability to steer his team around the park the way Carter does.
This exemplifies the brilliance of Carter. He brings to the table everything Cruden does with his running and distributing game, but his ability to direct a team and pull the strings is what really sets him apart and is what the All Blacks will miss the most.
It will also create more work for the loose forwards, as Carter is a player who not only tackles well, but goes looking for tackles to make. In this the loose forwards can play either tighter or looser depending on the game, as they don't have to concentrate as much on closing down the inside channel.
Without Carter the All Blacks will be more comfortable playing an open game rather than a tight one. This shouldn't be a problem against the Wallabies, who usually try to take on the All Blacks in this way anyway.
But if Carter is missing for the later Tests against South Africa and Argentina, they may find themselves having to adjust. Both teams prefer more of a grind and make it hard to play expansive rugby.
Cruden has shown himself capable of playing well enough in this type of game, but he needs to do it more consistently to get a full vote of confidence.
He is never going to be Carter and that is fine, but it goes to show once again how valuable it is having such a good player in such a key position.
So yes losing Carter is a big blow and yes the All Blacks will suffer accordingly. But Cruden's running game will still allow their back line to flourish and they will still enter the Rugby Championship very much as favourites.
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