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Carter set for his season opener

Sportal.co.nz     21 Jun 2006    

That is one of the most difficult aspects of the squad system the All Blacks selectors are using, the absence of the side's most gifted player.

Carter, the world rugby player of the year, has been such a dominating figure since his stellar 2005 season that no All Blacks team looks complete without him.

However, his season opener in Buenos Aires at the weekend will see him in a tough position with less than a full-strength All Blacks side around him.

So keen is Carter to do well in what is the second phase of the 2006 season for him, after an involved Super 14 competition, that while he watched the Irish Tests, he was more concerned about concentrating on the Argentinians.

"I'm pretty keen to focus on my first Test of the season, the Tri Nations is just around the corner, not far away," he said.

He runs onto the field in Buenos Aires aware that for him the world has changed and that he is now under greater pressure to perform at a high level consistently, and also aware that opposing sides need to reduce his opportunities to dominate games.

It is not something that he minds too much.

"Obviously it is pretty tough to come off a season like last year.

"I see there are new challenges ahead, and I am looking forward to those.

"The public expectation is not something I really read into. I have expectations of myself and goals I want to achieve and I will be doing everything I can, on and off the field, to achieve those and what's best for the team," he said.

Carter made the most of the break he was required to take after the Rebel Sport Super 14 final, taking a week off, before pulling back on the boots and beginning his preparation for the second part of the season.

"I had a couple of pretty minor niggles but nothing too bad, it was just a really good chance to clear the head of everything else.

"Obviously you're resting the body but it is a chance to get away from rugby and relax and refocus into a new campaign," he said.

Watching the first Test against Ireland, when not part of the side, was a new situation and one that provided mixed feelings for him.

"You always want to be out there but it is just one of those things you have to accept. I was stoked they came through with the win," he said.

While the Irish held a lead heading into the last quarter Carter always felt the All Blacks' self belief would become a factor in their taking out the win.

He had a first hand look at the Argentinian method during their second Test win over Wales at the weekend to complement the study he had already done of their recent campaigns.

"I've had a bit of a look at their last few games over the last 12 months, and their last couple of games against the All Blacks.

"Not too much has changed since then and we've got a huge challenge, especially playing over there.

"We've had a look at their crowds and the way they really get in behind their teams, that'll be a new challenge and will be pretty tough. It will be a new experience for most of the guys.

"We will have to get over there and really take it to them before they take it to us," he said.

Given the five-eighths that Argentina has had in the past, notably one of the finest of them all, Hugo Porta there is an acute appreciation of the position's skills. Carter, in his first appearance in South America is set to widen his appeal.