England lost to the All Blacks again on Saturday, simply out classed in the second test, debutant Richard Kahui showed the world how an outside centre should play. Explosive, powerful, straight lines aiming for gaps, looking for space, supporting wingers and tackling like a machine. This seems to be the biggest difference between the opposing backlines. The Kiwis create and run against the drift into spaces, the English backline simply went searching for contact and tried to bash their way up field. Unfortunately, modern day rugby doesn't work like that anymore, you have to be a lot smarter against modern day defences.
One man shone through once more for the All Blacks however, that man Daniel Carter. Again, the distant shouts of him being called the best player in the world have begun their song and why shouldn't they? For those who aren't quite sure of why he is the best player in the world i shall attempt to explain, i will also look into the horizon and see if their is anyone currently playing who could de-throne him.
It is well known that the modern rugby player is faster, bigger, fitter and stronger than at any point in the games history, and there has been a tendency to simply spend all the time in gym rather than the practice park. Then the thinking mans players began to shone through again, led by Carter. In short he probably is the best player in the world, but you have to put that into context. It is impossible to be the best in every position because the physical attributes required are almost incomparable between certain positions. For now, let's call him the best back or at least fly-half in the world. Just to be on the safe side.
Carter not only has an arsenal of skills that exceeds pretty much every other player in the world, but he has the brain, confidence and maturity to use them. He also has that "x-factor", that presence on a rugby field that makes a defence second guess itself. He always seems to make the correct decision, nothing on to the outside, one man has charged up out of defence to charge the kick, so he dummies the kick and off he goes. On the other hand, a rush defence blocks the long pass off so either a flick inside to a charging forward or a neat kick across the field or behind the rush. His ability to adapt his game to suit those around him and to suit the best way to break the opposition defence is uncanny.
I'm going to say it, and while Ma'a Nonu is getting better, Luke McAlister is looking to be one of the best centres in the world. Almost up their with Carter himself, in terms of skills but his dynamic running and bulk gave Carter more options with which to use the backline. Now he has a running 12 to work with he has adapted his game to bring him into and over the defensive line. He is used to fix defenders allowing Carter to open options wider a field.
Daniel Carter's athleticism allow him to step and jink and hand off like a big centre and can cut defences apart on his own seemingly with ease. He did it several times to England and it led to points on the board almost every time. For this reason he has a presence on the field, that something extra that makes him standout.
Then we move on to his place kicking, a fluid, easy going style that means he can pretty much slot a kick from just about anywhere in his own half. He may lack the distances that Luke McAlister and Francois Steyn can achieve but those monster kicks you see are a rarity and don't count for many points over the course of time. The ability to strike them sweetly under pressure, or in difficult position almost 100% of the time is what makes a great kicker. Just look at Neil Jenkins or Jonny Wilkinson, neither when at their peek were the biggest kickers in the world but accuracy is better than power.
What about contenders for Carter's title however? As an Englishman I suppose I have to say Danny Cipriani, but I just think, before his horrific and unfortunate incident in the Guinness Premiership semi, that he tries to do to much on his own, and relies on his speed to make these drifting runs, when these runs don't work the defence can easily drift and push the attack into contact. However, in a few years he could well be very much up at the top of the world with Carter.
Then we have the Argentinian contender Juan Martin Hernandez. I have to say he was my favourite player throughout the World Cup and would love to see him finally starting week in and week out as a fly-half at Leicester, as oppose to being butted out at Stade Francais. He is definitely the best full-back in the world, but he transferred his skills so effortlessly to playing at 10, and while he did force things every now and again, he simply needs time to play in that position to show what he can do. Stade simply don't allow him that time considering they hold 3 of Frances last 5 fly- half's.
Whatever may be the case, the thing i am most cetain of is that there has never been a point where so many young and exciting prospects have started to come through from all corners of the earth, Ryan Lamb for example i believe is a better player than Cipriani. Lamb has a better step and uses his outside backs more effectively. By the 2011 World Cup, there will be more creative, fluid and exciting rugby than ever before, and i can't wait.
We also wait to see how the All Blacks will cope when Carter and McCaw go on their sabbaticals, and whether they will still be in form come 2011. Right now however, Carter is on top of the world and is at his destructive best just as he was in 2005 against the Lions, and while I don't like to see it happen against England, it is still fabulous to watch.