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The All Black playmakers

A good halfback pairing is a crucial component of any side and without them there is little hope for the success of any side, as so much of the vital decision-making is on their shoulders.

 

The All Blacks have been blessed with the Dan Carter and people can argue all they want out his fitness and the stars he has called his teammates, but the fact remains that he is currently the best flyhalf in world rugby.

 

Much like being the quarterback of a top NFL side there is always the weight of expectation that starts with the flyhalf, and Carter has proved that he is a class above the rest time and again for years.

 

There are some other strong contenders for the No.10 jersey, and Chiefs pivot Aaron Cruden has been outstanding in the year's Super Rugby competition. Cruden's form has prompted questions over Carter's hamstring injury and the possibility of picking both playmakers in the starting XV. Carter has sent most of the season at inside centre for the Crusaders, making the possibility of picking him in the midfield for the All Blacks seem more viable.

 

The Crusaders No.10 for most of the season has been Tom Taylor, who has been in hot form with the boot and combined successfully with Carter, making him a dark horse for a call-up.

 

Another bad injury has ruined the season of Colin Slade, who was Carter's understudy last year, while the talented playmaker could still have a big future he won't feature this year.

 

The latest talented youngster to catch the attention of the coaches is Hurricanes pivot Beauden Barrett, who played at fullback for the victorious New Zealand Under-20 side at last year's IRB Junior World Champs. Barrett has been brilliant on attack for the 'Canes, slicing holes in several defences and some classy passing and kicking to boot, but his tackling could still use some work.

 

Scrumhalf has been arguably the weak point of the All Blacks in recent times, with Andy Ellis, Piri Weepu, Alby Mathewson, Brendon Leonard and Jimmy Cowan all spending some time in the No.9 jersey.

 

Cowan was the best of the bunch for a few years, but hasn't been able to make the Highlanders starting XV regularly this year and his decision to head overseas at the end of the season will also count against him.

 

The All Blacks ship sailed some time ago for Leonard, while Mathewson has had his moments this year in a terrible Blues team, but is far from international standard. Blues teammate Weepu was impressive at World Cup, although not in every match, and is a crowd favourite. However, while he is skillful he has been simply awful for the Blues, overweight, with bad body language and needs to be given the chop.

 

Crusaders scrumhalf Ellis is the best of the experienced candidates and has the added advantage of playing with Carter on a regular basis. To be fair though, he is the kind of player who won't let you down, but is no match-winner.

 

The young scrumhalfs in New Zealand is something to get excited about, as Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara and Tawera Kerr-Barlow have all shown promise this year.

 

Kerr-Barlow is a decent prospect, but his love for running the ball rather than passing as a first instinct lets him down. Perenara is the youngest of the group at 19, but has the skill and determination to become a fantastic player albeit in time when he isn't quite so raw. The top prospect must be Smith, who has already taken over the first choice spot at the Highlanders from Cowan.

 

Starting:

 

9 Aaron Smith:

His lightning quick pass and fantastic vision from the base of the ruck make him the Kiwi scrumhalf with the best skills in the crucial aspects of the position and blooding him against Ireland can only do him good.

 

10 Dan Carter: 

When you have the best flyhalf in the world in your team you pick him at flyhalf and not at inside centre – nuff said.

 

Bench:

 

19 Andy Ellis: 

He offers stability and experience and is far more reliable than Weepu, making the Crusaders man the ideal candidate to warm the bench and come to pick up the pieces should anything go wrong.

 

20 Aaron Cruden:

Most countries would be delighted to have Cruden and would hail him as the star of the team the way he is playing at the moment. However, he must bide his time in Carter's shadow for a little longer.

 

By Timmy Hancox

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