Carter honing drop-goals
Wellington - All Black superstar Dan Carter has admitted taking a leaf out of England rival Jonny Wilkinson's playbook and honing his drop-goal skills ahead of this year's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
The flyhalf, a mainstay of New Zealand's bid to win the tournament on home soil, is all too aware that the All Blacks' failure to slot goals at crucial moments has cost them dearly at previous World Cups.
The hard-running New Zealanders' natural instinct to seek out the tryline resulted in a 20-18 defeat to France in the 2007 quarter-finals, when Carter went off injured and no one else was game to attempt a match-winning drop goal.
Les Bleus also shocked the All Blacks in the 1999 semi-final, with two Christophe Lamaison drop goals helping shatter New Zealand as they went down 43-31.
Carter, 29, said he did not want a repeat in front of expectant home fans during the September 9-October 23 showcase and was practising intently to add the drop goal to his arsenal.
"You can’t avoid it," Carter told Britain's Daily Telegraph. "It's important, especially come World Cup time when games are so intense and tight.
"Historically, the All Blacks and myself do not take a lot of dropped goals but it's an important part of my position. I'm working away at it and building my confidence so I can bring it out when needed."
Carter has scored 1 188 points in his 79-Test career, but only two drop goals.
In contrast, Wilkinson – who stands just seven points ahead of Carter as all-time highest Test scorer with 1 95 – has nailed 33, the most famous of which secured England the 2003 World Cup in injury time against Australia.
That victory came just four years after South Africa's Jannie de Beer memorably booted England out of the 1999 World Cup quarter-finals by setting a test-match record of five drop goals.
Carter said he still had no answers as to why perennial power New Zealand have failed to win the World Cup since the inaugural edition in 1987, after a series of failures that are piling pressure on the home team this year.
"I wish I did know the answer so we could change it," he said. "I know the opposition love playing and beating the All Blacks – just look at the French team on a couple of occasions.
"It's like they've played their grand final against the All Blacks and the following week you know they'll bum out and not win because they have put everything into the week before against us."
After turfing out the All Blacks in 1999 and 2007, France are grouped with New Zealand in pool A at this year's tournament, meaning the only way they can meet in the knockout stages is if both make the final.
That would give New Zealand a chance to avenge past defeats in the ultimate arena, particularly if Carter's new-found fondness for drop goals kicks in.