DAN Carter’s long wait is almost over. International rugby’s record point scorer will wear his beloved All Black No 10 jersey for the first time in just under a year when he lines up against Scotland at BT Murrayfield on Saturday evening – and the 32-year-old is desperate to make up for lost time.
He said: “There is a real sense of energy when you have been away from the environment for as long as I have. You never take this position for granted. When you are out of the environment it makes you want it more. It is just such a great team to be involved in.”
The two-time IRB World Player of the Year has suffered injury setback after injury setback since being ruled out of the knockout stages of New Zealand’s successful Rugby World Cup campaign in 2011 with a groin injury.
He has featured in just 16 of the 44 Test matches his country has played since lifting the William Webb Ellis Cup, with his most recent issue being a broken leg suffered in August which ruled him out of this year’s Rugby Championship.
But he did manage 40 minutes playing at NPC level for Canterbury at the end of September and All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen decided that this was sufficient to warrant selection for this end-of-season tour.
Carter made a second-half cameo appearance in the 74-6 demolition of the USA a fortnight ago, but was not deemed ready to play in last week’s crunch encounter against England.
However, Hansen is now convinced that his man is ready to take the next step along the road to full rehabilitation.
Carter said: “There is a lot of excitement about starting this weekend. It has been almost 12 months since the last time I started for the All Blacks. I’ve talked a lot in the past about what the jersey means to me, so to have another opportunity to put the No 10 jersey on is very exciting.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this week. I’ve had to work hard to get here and now I want to make the most of the opportunity.”
He added: “I haven’t played a lot of rugby this year. Normally, in the later stages of the season you are finding it a little bit tougher, but I am feeling fresh and excited.
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“There has been a lack of preparation, but I have had a couple of good weeks and I have worked extremely hard. I’m not just going to be happy getting through 60 or 80 minutes.
“Every time I pull on the black jersey I want to be one of the best players out there, if not the best. That’s what I will be striving to do this weekend – doing everything I can to help the All Blacks get the win and get the performance they will be satisfied with.
“Just getting through it is not enough from me; I want to walk off the pitch happy with my performance.”
Carter admitted that there were low moments during his injury lay-off when he feared he would never return to the top of his sport, but he has drawn strength from that feeling of despair. It has given a greater appreciation of how important the game is to him, and reinforced his determination to make the most of whatever time he has left in the sport.
He said: “There are all sorts of doubts with your body when you have had injuries like I’ve had. In your darkest times you question whether you’ll ever get the chance to put the jersey on again.
“But once you get over that and get back to your plan and your goals, you become more focused on what needs to be done. For me to get back into the position where I’m able to play for the All Blacks once again is a great challenge. I’m available for the Test match this weekend. There might not be all that many more. I know I’m not going to be playing in the black jersey for another five or ten years. I want to make the most of every moment that I’ve got.
“‘It is a matter of consistency and playing at a level that I’m happy with, and the coaches are happy with, for a number of games. There are only a couple more opportunities this season and I really wanted to nail this one without looking further ahead. Obviously, though, next year is a huge year for me.”
Carter is one of 13 new faces in the All Blacks’ starting line-up, while the two survivors from last week’s game are playing in different positions.
Captain Richie McCaw is being deployed at blindside flanker so that Sam Cane gets a start at open-side, while Ben Smith switches from right wing to full-back.
James Parsons is making his debut at hooker, and there are only three players in the side with more than 30 All Blacks caps – although it should be noted that two of those players, McCaw with 135 caps and Carter with 101, must surely be rated among the most accomplished exponents of the game during the professional era.
Meanwhile, Hansen scoffed at the suggestion that his team selection points to a lack of respect for the challenge he is anticipating from Scotland.
He said: “We’re taking Scotland very seriously. We’ve already said that it’s a losable game if we don’t prepare well, and get our feet on the floor after last week really quickly. That was our opening statements on Sunday and Monday and nothing has changed.
“But we’ve got our own plans and our own agenda that we’ve got to live by.
“I think people are totally misreading the situation if they think we are not respecting them.”
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