Dan Carter has Jonny Wilkinson in his back pocket
By Mark Keohane
CAPE TOWN - Clive Woodward must have taken a few knocks during his playing days.
How else does one explain his choice of Jonny Wilkinson over Dan Carter as the best ever flyhalf?
Woodward’s conclusion in itself is a contradiction following his appraisal of both players.
Woodward, who played for England and coached England and the British & Irish Lions, is obviously biased but come on Sir Clive, Jonny never came close to the fabulous allround skills of DC.
Wilkinson was a fantastic player and among the most influential of his generation. He was for a long time the pulse of England’s success and his career highlight was winning England the World Cup in Australia in 2003.
Wilkinson could kick and he could tackle, but his attack was limited and his natural attacking flair simply wasn’t on par with Carter’s.
Woodward acknowledges this: “They were, by some distance, the two pre-eminent flyhalves of their era – both incidentally natural left-footers. They were both tough and enduring. I would score Jonny and Dan about equal as the best goal-kickers we have seen, Dan was the best attacking 10 I ever saw while Jonny was far and away the best defensive 10 I ever witnessed,” wrote Woodward in the Daily Mail. “So, where does that leave us. If I was forced into a corner I would go with Jonny. Just.”
You have the best attacking flyhalf you have ever seen and you omit him in favour of the best defensive flyhalf you have ever seen, while acknowledging that his best attacking flyhalf was also a very good defender?
Come on Clive, you sound more like the court jester than one who has been knighted.
Your memory is also either dulled through the many beatings Carter put on your team, be it England or the Lions, or your head did more tackling than your shoulders because your statement (that prior to Carter’s 33-point demolition of the Lions in Wellington in 2005, there wasn’t much about him that stood out), reads like an April Fool’s joke.
Here’s what Woodward wrote: “His 33 points in the second Test (versus the Lions), including two brilliant tries, was off the Richter scale and possibly the best individual performance I have ever witnessed at Test level. The Perfect 10.
“Ahead of the (Lions) tour (to New Zealand in 2005), I don’t think anybody in Britain and Ireland had really clocked the true depth of his talent. Until then he had played mainly at
inside centre and kicked a good number of goals. He kicked a stack of penalties against England when we were on tour in 2004, but I don’t recall a scarily good superstar player at that stage. He was just a reliable Kiwi centre and prolific kicker.”
Alright Clive, time for that reminder. Here’s the smelling salts.
Carter, before the start of your three-test Lions series nightmare in New Zealand in 2005, played 18 Tests. He started 11 at inside centre and seven at flyhalf. He had played five successive Tests at flyhalf before his 33-point power performance in Wellington.
The All Blacks, in those 18 Tests, had lost just once, 23-18 to Australia in Sydney.
Carter, in 2004, scored 21 and 16 points respectively, in two successive Tests against England. Reports of both those matches single out Carter’s class, which included a try, several assists and more than ‘just kicking penalties’.
Anybody who is anybody in rugby in Britain and Ireland would have had an appreciation for Carter’s potential and brilliance from the moment he made his debut against Wales in Hamilton, New Zealand in 2003 and scored a try, created two others and finished the match with 20 points.
Carter played inside centre on debut, but a year later produced a flyhalf masterclass in front of 78 750 rugby supporters at the Stade de France in Paris. Carter scored 25 points, including a try, and dazzled in the All Blacks’ 45-6 victory.
The Guardian Newspaper’s rugby lead story on November 28 was headlined: ‘Carter leads devastating dance of the All Blacks’.
The match summary read: ‘The All Blacks performance was led by another wonderful all-round display from flyhalf Daniel Carter, who orchestrated his team’s attacks and kicked brilliantly.’
The French media wrote of Carter’s artistry on the night and delighted in detailing every aspect of his performance. A week before that the British media had applauded his performance against Wales, which included a late penalty for a 26-25 All Blacks win.
Carter, before the opening Test against the Lions in 2005, had played 18 Tests, scored four tries, kicked 59 conversions and 31 penalties for 247 points. That is the equal of some celebrated playing careers, yet Woodward claims he can’t recall anything special about Carter back then, other than him being able to kick penalties.
There’s a thing called Youtube Clive and on Youtube there’s loads of footage of Dan Carter playing in his first 18 Test matches. There’s also the full Test match in 2004 against France in Paris.
Woodward's dismissal of Carter's first 18 Tests does explain the Lions results in New Zealand, especially if Woodward watched the Paris Test in 2004 and never gave Carter’s performance a second thought.
And it certainly explains Woodward’s choice of a defensive demon over a majestic artist. Equally, it shows up the absurdity of his statement that Carter, pre the Lions series, was ‘just another reliable Kiwi player’.