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by Andrew Vaughan


In the four weekends over November the New Zealand All Blacks play England and Wales and (in between) France twice as they prepare for the 2007 Rugby World Cup. They have promised there will be no rotating squads, no fannying about as they focus solely on winning the World Cup in Paris in October 2007. They have announced that they will be staying in the hotels they plan to use for the World Cup and plan to win all four games on this European tour, prove they are the greatest sporting team in the world and set the agenda. Four weekends of high quality rugby. The greatest and toughest team game in the world. Hard encounters at Twickenham and Cardiff and games in Lens and Paris against the French, the team that have proved to be their nemesis in recent years. It will be essential viewing - not only to watch a great combative sport but also to watch the man that most seasoned rugby watchers believe to be currently the best player on the planet - Dan Carter, the All Blacks Fly Half.


Aged just 24 Carter is phenomenal as is indicated by being named IRB Player of The Year 2005. Thanks in no small part to his 33-point demolition of the British Lions in Wellington. But there is more than that: he led Crusaders to the 2006 Super 14 tournament averaging 15 points per game and has helped New Zealand secure the 2006 Tri-Nations tournament with considerable ease. It is what he can do on the pitch, however, that sets him apart. He's quick, strong and solid in defence. Possesses a side step to baffle the best, can put in booming kicks off either foot and has the nous to open up defences with a drop of a shoulder. Where he excels however is that he can adapt his game. If he needs to "dog it out" he's the man to do it. Under pressure on their own line he's got the punt in his armoury to move the game back to the half-way line. If the game's fast and open he can run, pass and open up defences better than anybody else in the game. He is also a pretty faultless goal-kicker


At 24 he is still learning but having played at scrum half and inside centre in the early stages of his career he knows and understands the tactical game and as the New Zealand Number 10 he is an integral part of their plan to win the World Cup. Worryingly for everybody else he can only get better.


As England dilly and dally and decide where to play Andy Farrell (try Odsal) New Zealand come into this first game, all guns firing with their sites firmly set on the big prize next year. It will be intriguing. Charlie Hodgson who is now firmly ahead of Jonny Wilkinson will be up against the young master and we'll see what he is made of. It will be eighty minutes of sterling endeavour and will along with the All Blacks three other games be the best sporting event this side of Christmas. Enjoy the spectacle and cherish the man who is currently the best rugby player (if not sportsman) on this planet.







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