NEW ZEALAND backs coach Wayne Smith yesterday predicted fly-half Dan Carter will return from his controversial stint in European club rugby an even more dangerous player.
Earlier this week, England’s elite rugby director Rob Andrew suggested New Zealand were being short-sighted in allowing Carter and All Blacks captain Richie McCaw to insert sabbatical clauses into their new contracts.
McCaw insists he has no intention of activating his but Carter is already in lucrative negotiations with two clubs, thought to be Toulon and Biarritz.
Andrew said the move could “backfire” on the All Blacks because their star players would return from Europe “knackered” just in time to play the Tri-Nations.
But Smith is excited by the prospect of watching Carter develop his game in the unforgiving environment of the French Top 14, and possibly the Heineken Cup too.
“Just the experience of spending a block of your time over there, with a different language, it’s got to widen your horizons,” said Smith, the former Northampton coach.
“I don’t think it can hurt you, it can only enhance you.
“The thing is to be able to make the most of those experiences and make yourself a better person and a better player through them and I think he has got the ability to do that.
“He’s pretty down to earth, very open, very amiable and I’m sure he will adapt to the culture and the language and grow through it.”
Smith has experienced rugby life outside of New Zealand on a first-hand basis and believes it makes him far better prepared for tomorrow’s first Test against England at Eden Park.
New Zealand are not only attempting to beat England but also earn the backing of many fans who were left disgruntled by the All Blacks’ World Cup failure and the subsequent reappointment of Graham Henry as head coach.
There is a sense of depression hanging over New Zealand rugby and union executive Steve Tew admitted this week the All Blacks need to redouble their efforts to win back the “hearts and minds” of the fans.
The 21-11 victory over Ireland last Saturday did little to redress the balance, largely because it was achieved in monsoon conditions and hardly lived up to the All Blacks ethos of attacking rugby.
Smith is aware the squad have a significant PR exercise on their hands over the coming weeks, never mind the ferocious physical challenge two Tests against England will pose.
“I’ve always thought that you earn your respect and your support and you’ve just got to do that week by week,” he said.
“You can’t do it one week and expect to have it.
“There is some massive disappointment over last year and I can understand that. I know how I was feeling. I’ll always have a hole in my gut and that will never go away.
“I can’t put that right but I can do this job, do my best, be proud.”
All Blacks full back Mils Muliaina is a doubt for Saturday’s match at Eden Park after straining a hamstring in training.
A final decision will be taken today but the All Blacks have called uncapped Highlanders fullback Paul Williams — son of former All Black Bryan Williams — into the training squad.
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