Dan Carter can make a statement when he starts at flyhalf for the All Blacks against Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
Since rupturing his groin during a training session before the All Blacks' 2011 World Cup pool match against Canada, Carter has played just 17 Tests out of a possible 45. He has only managed to play four consecutive Tests once, in late 2012, making three consecutive appearances on the 2013 end-of-year tour and playing just two in a row on three other occasions.
Carter missed the All Blacks' three-match series against England in June this year because he was on a sabbatical from rugby, otherwise his absence has been injury enforced – a hamstring strain, calf strain and Achilles tendon strain in 2012; a cracked bone in his hand, calf strain, shoulder injury and Achilles tendon strain in 2013; and a fractured leg suffered in the 2014 Super Rugby final that ruled him out of the entire Rugby Championship. No wonder many were asking if the 32-year-old could make it to next year's World Cup.
Carter returned from his latest injury setback with an impressive 30-minute cameo off the bench against the USA in Chicago – he made a couple linebreaks and kicked three conversions – but was left out of the match 23 for the Twickenham Test, with coach Steve Hansen opting for Aaron Cruden at flyhalf and Beauden Barrett on the bench.
Carter, though, has regained the No 10 jersey for Saturday's match against Scotland and will be under less pressure in his first Test start in a year than he would have been against England. And with no flyhalf on the bench, the 101-Test veteran should get to play the full 80 minutes, enough time to show that Dan is still the man for the All Blacks going into 2015.
Carter is part of an experimental All Blacks team for the Murrayfield clash.
TJ Perenara starts at scrumhalf, with a new midfield combination in Malakai Fekitoa and Ryan Crotty. Ben Smith moves to fullback, with Colin Slade on the right wing and Charles Piutau on the left. Up front, Blues hooker James Parsons will make his Test debut, with Jeremy Thrush and Dominic Bird in the second row, Richie McCaw playing out of position at blindside flank, Sam Cane at openside and Victor Vito at No 8.
Meanwhile, Scotland are coming off a confidence-boosting 41-31 win against Argentina, which saw them end a four-match losing streak to the Pumas at Murrayfield and score five tries in the process. Kiwi coach Vern Cotter only took over in June but the Scots are already posing more of a threat on attack than they have in recent years.
Cotter has unsurprisingly kept his starting XV intact, with hooker Fraser Brown, lock Tim Swinson, loose forward Johnnie Beattie and scrumhalf Chris Cusiter coming in on the bench.
Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw insists the All Blacks are 'not superhuman' and his team will push hard for a first-ever win in this fixture, but it's hard to see that happening. Even with what is close to a second-string side, the world champions should win this one comfortably in what are expected to be dry conditions.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: All Blacks 27, Drawn 2
In Scotland: All Blacks 15, Drawn 2
LAST FIVE RESULTS
2012: All Blacks won 51-22 (Edinburgh)
2010: All Blacks won 49-3 (Edinburgh)
2008: All Blacks won 32-6 (Edinburgh)
2007: All Blacks won 40-0 (Edinburgh)
2005: All Blacks won 29-10 (Edinburgh)
CARTER'S STATS THAT MATTER
28 – The number of Tests he has missed since getting injured at the 2011 World Cup
9 – The number of separate injuries he has suffered in that period
3 – The number of operations he has had (ankle twice and groin)
30 – The number of minutes he got as a substitute against the USA in Chicago two weeks ago
2 – The number of clean breaks he made
3 – The number of conversions he kicked out of three attempts
Scotland – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Adam Ashe, 7 Blair Cowan, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson.
Subs: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Johnnie Beattie, 21 Chris Cusiter, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Sean Lamont.
All Blacks – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Colin Slade, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Dan Carter, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Richie McCaw (c), 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Sonny Bill Williams, 23 Julian Savea.
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images