Lions pride rests with Carlos

2010-01-20 11:06
Too old? (File)
Johannesburg - Even at 34, former All Black, Blues and Auckland flyhalf Carlos Spencer still has the twinkle in his eye.

The big question is, does he still have the physical tools to make those innate skills of his a factor for his latest team, the Lions, as he completes a much-anticipated return to Super Rugby?

According to the Rugby Heaven website, that will be one of the major talking points of the start of the new Super 14 season as Spencer attempts to lead the Lions to a brave new world, somewhere away from their perennial status of competition also-rans.

The signing of Spencer came as a shock to many as the Lions launched their new era under highly-rated coach Dick Muir. They've also picked up Springbok flanker Wikus van Heerden and there's an air of optimism around Johannesburg that the gloomy days as competition doormats could be behind them.

But after five years in England where he starred initially for Northampton before moving on to a lesser role with Gloucester, many wonder whether Spencer still has the stuff to make an imprint at Super 14 level.

At his best he's a game-breaker, with the vision, confidence and skills to spark a backline and make a defensive line look ordinary.

Remember his banana kicks, the dabs off his knee, the no-look passes? With Spencer you always expected the unexpected.

But with the passing of time there must be doubts that Spencer - now in his rugby dotage - still has the physical tools to handle the pace and unforgiving defence of the modern game.

However, after a quick visit to meet his new team-mates before returning to England this week to tidy up his affairs, it's fair to say that the former Aucklander is not one of those doubting his capabilities.

The 35-Test All Black told South African media he's certainly not joining the Lions merely to collect his pension and make up the numbers.

"I have kept myself in pretty good nick," Spencer said. "My body is in pretty good shape and I have been injury-free for the last five years while I've been in the UK.

"Physically I feel really good and mentally I'm still keen to play."

Spencer also showed that his trademark confidence remained, which could be crucial for a Lions side badly in need of a jolt of swagger.

"I think I have the mindset that comes along with the Super 14," he added. "I like to play rugby and enjoy myself."

Spencer's signing with the Lions will end a five-year exile from southern hemisphere rugby. He left Auckland and the Blues to join Northampton in 2005 and recently joined Gloucester on a 17-month contract after being released by mutual consent from the Saints.

The man they dubbed King Carlos and The Jackal in his pomp – where his trickery with ball in hand was a trademark of his play – also revealed an ambition to move into coaching had fuelled his desire to take up the offer from the Lions.

"The thing that convinced me to come is that they were prepared to give me a coaching role, which is something I always looked forward to doing and that is probably the main reason," he confirmed.

"They have set goals and I want to help them achieve that and help out the young guys that are here as well. I want to be successful and do as well as I can for this team."

While there may be plenty of doubters, in New Zealand and beyond, that Spencer can still summon the magic in the twilight years of his career, there can be no doubt that he will add interest to the competition.

After all, when Spencer's on the ball you really do not know what is going to happen next. It should be fun to watch.


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