Wednesday 17 January 2018

Carter's perfection quest looms large

David Kelly

David Kelly

Let's cut to the chase, shall we? For all the bluff and bluster, aside from the tiring, queasy Kiwi condescension and hesitant Irish chutzpah, there is but one fundamental truth.

So, Dan Carter -- out-half nonpareil in world rugby, pivot of the finest team in the world game -- if the All Blacks play their best, no matter where, or when, or against whom, they will win? Have we got that right?

He strokes a hairless chin. "Yeah, pretty much," he says. "We know what we're capable of." His soft, unaffected manner mirrors his simplistic yet devastatingly efficient playing style.

"And in the games that don't go so well, it's because normally the things that we've done we've not done so well. If we put a huge emphasis on striving for that perfection each game, then that tends to take care of itself."

Which is why, every time the All Blacks roll into town, they spout endless platitudes, often even forgetting Irish names and places, while the Irish put out their chests proudly before ritually enduring another slaughter.

"It comes down to ourselves," Carter calmly adds. "Obviously we really respect the Irish team and what they are capable of, so it's important we always do that. But . . ."

Of course. There's a but.

"I think it's more about our performance and living up to the high expectations and the high standards that we have. We were pretty happy with the way we played last week but to us that's just a benchmark. We want to improve on the way we played last week."

At this stage, we interrupt this bulletin to remind you that the final score in Murrayfield last Saturday was Scotland 3 New Zealand 49.

Asking whether there's room for improvement is akin to Leonardo da Vinci's assistants suggesting he could have done with touching up Mona Lisa's eyes a tad. Carter responds unblinkingly.

"Yeah, definitely," he says. "There's not a lot more we could have done, but we just have to really perform extremely well for a full 80 minutes. We tend to drop off at certain patches of the game and I guess that's a big focus this week against Ireland."

Asked about his knowledge of Jonny Sexton, Carter is suddenly nonplussed. Clearly, attending the 2009 Heineken Cup final, where Sexton first rose to prominence, didn't jolt Carter from his state of permanent grace.

"Only on small occasions," he says when asked has he ever seen Sexton play. "He poses a real threat, he's got a good attacking ability and he reads the game well. He's a good player."

All the while, the avuncular Graham Henry is doing the room. Henry's remarkable eyebrows can dislodge an entire micro-ecosystem. Just as well his lot is mostly an unflustered one as he draws ever closer to his 100th Test win as a coach in his 127th outing tomorrow.

"It shows I didn't get the sack too often," he says, threatening to arch a remarkable furry brow in amusement. "I didn't realise until I saw this in the paper the other day.


"It's been a long time and obviously you need a touch of madness to go down there. But to coach Test rugby 130 times is something to be very proud of, it demonstrates longevity."

The highlights are manifold. Leading the Welsh to success in Wembley, beating France in Paris on successive championship visits, the Test win over the Lions in Wellington and this year's remarkable success against the Springboks have maintained the 64-year-old's edge.

Losing to France in the last World Cup was traumatic, with a majority of his compatriots seeking his head. Everything since is designed to avoid a repeat next year.

Managing those expectations is arguably more difficult than managing his players.

"I haven't got a problem with that," he says. "That's just the expectation of the nation and one of the reasons we're so successful because we use it as a positive rather than a negative."

All this and it's not even 9.0. You've got to be up early to beat these guys.

Irish Independent

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