Rugby Union

Dan Carter's successors prepare for their auditions and All Black glory

Vacancy: All Blacks first five-eighth. Contenders: Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett, Lima Sopoaga. Probably in that order, too.

In five months the picture will be much clearer. For now, that poser looms large over this year's Super Rugby season. Rather than mourn Dan Carter's defection to France, attention for much of this year will focus on his successors. 

More Sport Videos

Sport: The week's best plays

From watermelon lovers to monster sixes, these are the most exciting, silly and downright crazy plays in the sporting world this week.

For the first time in a decade, Carter's shadow is no longer cast. Even through periods where he struggled with form and fitness – allowing others to shine – Carter's lofty presence suggested he would always stand up when it mattered most. And so it proved. 

Now, the stakes have been raised. All three challengers are about to enter auditions with their respective franchises, and all three are likely to get chances at Test level over the next 12 months. Damian McKenzie may not be far behind, either.

Long shadow: All Blacks great Dan Carter
Long shadow: All Blacks great Dan Carter Photo: Phil Reid

But, eventually, the All Blacks will settle on a definitive pecking order. The first glimpse at that comes in June, when Warren Gatland's Wales team arrive for three Tests. Chopping and changing No.10s long-term won't do. New midfield combinations in the post Ma'a Nonu-Conrad Smith era dictate continuity is required.

First-fives drive any team. Only time in the saddle builds cohesion.


Sopoaga, last year's New Zealand Super Rugby player of the year, presents an intriguing – still slightly unknown – case. His attacking flair, form, skill-set and Test debut at Ellis Park were certainly compelling.

Still, there's a sense he has much to prove, especially on defence and, thus, sits firmly third in line for the moment, though his dropped goal shapes as the best of the lot.

Heading off Barrett by a narrow margin is Cruden. Coincidentally, both talents emerged from Hurricanes territories. Cruden from Manawatu, Barrett from Taranaki, which is now part of the Chiefs. Cruelly robbed by injury of the chance to push Carter for a starting spot at the World Cup, Cruden is hungry and fully aware of his chances.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie, a noted Cruden fan, highlights exactly where his playmaker left off last year.

"Had Aaron been available, the All Blacks would have had an interesting decision. At that time of the year, Aaron was in great form and Dan was battling. Obviously Dan was superb in the last three weeks of the World Cup and that's great, everyone is happy for him, but it would have been interesting, even the 10 they might have left at home if Aaron was fit. It certainly wouldn't have been him." 

Originally, Cruden had a late start penned in his contract this year but, after 10 months out with an ACL knee reconstruction, he waived that in favour of an immediate return.

"What's made me more determined was the fact the World Cup was on and I missed that opportunity to be involved in that group and win another world title so I'm keen and eager to rip into things," the Chiefs co-captain said.