Wednesday 13 December 2017

Sean Diffley: Carter may be good but let's not forget about true greats

Sean Diffley

The endless acclaim of Dan Carter is beginning to get ridiculous. The All Blacks out-half is certainly a superb player, but some of the praise being showered on him is way over the top.

Consider this: "Daniel Carter is the finest out-half of his generation by a distance, best measured in light years..."

Somebody, I reckon, must be using Galileo's instruments upside down. What of Jack Kyle, Barry John, Phil Bennett, Ollie Campbell, Tony Ward, Richard Sharp, Rob Andrew or Cliff Morgan? Those northern hemisphere out-halves didn't have the luxury of playing behind a New Zealand pack of juggernaut forwards, but videos of their days are eye-openers as they exhibited exceptional skills.

Carter hasn't shown us anything we haven't seen before down the years. Bennett's performance in that famous Barbarians match in 1973, which featured a dazzling succession of sidesteps that launched the try that beat the All Blacks in Cardiff, is among the great moments in the sport.

Dismissing such achievements because they occurred in the amateur era is plain wrong. Just consider the Lions' New Zealand tour in 1977. From May until August they travelled 40,000 miles, went through 20 different airports, and were watched in New Zealand by 718,000 spectators at 26 matches. Some amateurism.

The big difference is, of course, the sheer physical size of the players. In stature there is little difference between Brian O'Driscoll and Ollie Campbell or Barry John, but nowadays there are forwards of 6'8" and bigger.

Willie John McBride was a giant in the '60s and '70s but he was merely 6'3", and Bill 'Wigs' Mulcahy, the line-out star in the Lions tour of South Africa in 1962, didn't quite make six feet.

Over the past few decades the most noted players in New Zealand and South Africa have been forwards. Until Carter came along, the inside backs didn't get much press as wings such as John Kirwan grabbed all the headlines. In South Africa the most high-profile back was full-back Naas Botha.

The nominations for this year's IRB Player of the Year award prompt some debate. Richie McCaw and Carter are obviously in the frame, but ignoring the flying South African wing Bryan Habana is strange to say the least. But there was nothing strange about David Campese's Twitter about a Sydney newspaper appointing a women rugby correspondent: "Now we have someone, a girl, who knows nothing about the game".

Campese was a brilliant player but he didn't know how to keep his mouth shut.

I remember him in a Sydney match against the Lions when he gathered a ball behind his own goalline and then, when challenged, dropped it to an opponent who scored. Afterwards, amid much hilarity, he tried to blame someone else.

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