WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Two-times World Cup winner Dan Carter has laughed off suggestions he could make a surprise return to the All Blacks squad for this year’s tournament as New Zealand grapples with concerns over their depth at flyhalf.
The 37-year-old has not played for the All Blacks since the 2015 final and is not contracted to New Zealand Rugby, but a season-ending injury to Damian McKenzie has seen concerns mount about who will be the third flyhalf heading to Japan.
Carter was mentioned by his former All Blacks coach Graham Henry as a possibility, but the three-times World Player of the Year said a recent neck surgery would rule him out anyway.
“I was having a laugh at that when I heard my name being thrown around,” Carter told Fairfax Media on Wednesday after receiving the New Zealand Order of Merit in Auckland.
“I think I can start contact training again in October. So I might be right for the semi-final or final … the first tackle in a big game like that would be quite entertaining.
“My focus is on recovering from this with the hope of finishing off my contract in Japan.”
Carter had neck surgery in early April after a previously undiagnosed injury ended his hopes of a lucrative short-term return to French club Racing 92.
He is currently contracted to Japanese club Kobelco Steelers and is expected to return for the Top League season when it begins after the World Cup, which would also make him ineligible for the All Blacks, who only select New Zealand-based players.
Carter, however, said it was not a risk to go into the tournament with two specialist flyhalves — most likely Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga — and rely on other utility players to slot in if needed.
“You just have to focus on the resources and the talent that you do have,” he said.
“The coaches and selectors have been around for a while, they will be working on things behind the scenes as well to give them some security in case there are more injuries.”
All Blacks supporters had a similar crisis of confidence during the 2011 World Cup when Carter and Colin Slade went down injured and Aaron Cruden and Stephen Donald were called in.
Donald, who had been fishing when he got the phone call from Henry to join the squad, then entered folklore as he kicked a penalty to give the All Blacks an 8-7 victory over France in the final.
“We have been in that situation before and still won a World Cup,” Carter said. “And that gives us a lot of confidence.”
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)