Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Crusaders will rise for returning Dan Carter  IAN SNOOK 22/03/2012

OPINION: The King returns. The most talked-about groin in the business has mended and the long-awaited return of Dan Carter for the Crusaders will take place this weekend.
The big question now is whether the inclusion of Carter will turn a hesitant beaten group in to a confident, positive team with a winning edge. Of course the answer is yes.
History dictates that big winners have the big players in the key position. Ross Brown did it for Taranaki with the Ranfurly Shield, while Grant Fox did the same for Auckland. Andrew Mehrtens provided the same for Canterbury and the Crusaders. All successful teams at any level have that person. Carter is that big player in the Crusaders camp.
What he provides is a confidence that permeates through the team in the knowledge that, so long as they perform their roles, the "leader" will make the correct decisions and execute them accordingly. The belief from this group that Carter will provide the winning feeling once again will be obvious from the time he takes the field against the Cheetahs on Saturday. Good or bad, his aura will do the trick for this one. Playing alongside the best in the business is no small bonus.
The great thing about each of the New Zealand franchises is that they are quickly developing "Dan Carters" of their own. In the deep south, Colin Slade is already a young All Black directing the fearsome Highlanders around the park. Although he has had a mixed start, he will get better as he plays more games and returns to full fitness.
The Hurricanes have discovered perhaps the brightest light for some time in the emergence of Beauden Barrett, who plays with a confidence and game understanding that must have been beyond the team's wildest dreams. His calmness and seizing of opportunities suggests he has a factor that will make him better than the others. Time will tell.
Aaron Cruden at the Chiefs displays all the authority of a confident player who knows he has his team-mates fully supporting him and so he should. His contributions to the game are providing the team with the belief that anything can be achieved. It may seem a strange one, but the front row as an example are thriving because Cruden is providing them with the necessary belief. The leader is leading.
Gareth Anscombe is another youngster sitting on the throne and whether the Blues finally start winning will have a lot to do with the direction and confidence he can provide. Once he feels comfortable in this crucial role, and the players recognise what they have, the team performances will move up another level or two.
With Carter only sporadically reaching the heights of his great season when the British and Irish Lions toured New Zealand in 2005, the trick for himself and Todd Blackadder will be to see how quickly he can progress and how far he can reach in this rebirth.
A quick and fit Carter will allow his experience to be fully utilised. A lesser degree of speed and fitness will call for shortcuts. It is difficult to stay at the top of the mountain but, with several really good youngsters pursuing him, he will have to move quickly and stay focused.
Can he do it? Of course he can. Long live the King. The only question in a team that desperately needs to win is, why he isn't starting?
Ian Snook has coached professionally for the past 25 years in New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, England, Ireland, Japan and Italy.


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