Championship - New Zealand's Carter returns to face Pumas

Fly-half Daniel Carter will play just his second Test of the year when New Zealand face Argentina in the Rugby Championship in Hamilton on Saturday, and after a decade in charge of the number 10 jersey the world's leading points scorer is under more pressure than ever before to keep it.

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Championship - New Zealand's Carter returns to face Pumas
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Dan Carter is set to return from injury (PA Sport)

Widely considered the best fly-half ever to play the game, Carter never seems rushed in the face of pressure.

Injuries over the last few years, however, have turned him into what All Blacks' coach Steve Hansen has described as a 'red-flag athlete', whose workload needs to be managed if he is to go through to his fourth World Cup in England in 2015.

Carter has been granted a six-month sabbatical that he will take next year, missing the Super Rugby season in order to sort out a multitude of tweaks and niggles and give himself the best chance of making 2015.

Those injuries have given several players the opportunity to emerge from Carter's shadow over the years, and nine other players have grabbed the chance, however fleetingly, to play 10 since 2004.

This season Carter suffered a broken hand and a slight calf strain and several young contenders showed they could be ready to seize his crown.

After strong performances by Aaron Cruden and debutant Tom Taylor, who played because third-choice fly-half Beauden Barrett was also injured, against Australia in their first two Rugby Championship games, few All Blacks supporters are concerned with what lies beneath in the pivotal position.

"Since I have been playing it is definitely the best depth we have had in the number 10 jersey," Carter told Television New Zealand after he was named to start his first Test since playing against France in June.

"As frustrating as it is not to play, it is pleasing to see the guys who have put the number 10 jersey on really fill the spot well.

"It is great to have that depth in New Zealand rugby, so if anything, it keeps the pressure on me."

As fly-half, Carter is used to pressure. It is his job to drive the side around the park, knowing when to pass, kick or run depending on the field position and numbers in front of him.

His complete game is hard to emulate, though the young players are showing they have the necessary skills to develop.

Cruden is a deceptive runner, unafraid to take on the line, his kicking out of hand and at goal has improved markedly and his game management is close to world class.

Taylor's composed debut showed he was more than ready to take the step up and is a good distributor and runner and is arguably the best goal kicker.

Barrett, however, appears to have the most upside in terms of development. A strong kicker and deceptively quick runner he also distributes well and like Carter appears to have time to execute, even when under immense pressure.

In the past, players may have felt they were merely marking time until Carter's return.

Hansen is aware that may no longer be the case.

"It's interesting isn't it," Hansen said. "We've gone from having the best first five-eighth (fly-half) in the history of the game, or certainly the best first-five in rugby (at the moment), to probably the second best in Cruds (Cruden), who has really developed and taken the bull by the horns.

"Beauden is developing nicely. Tom Taylor's performance ... was nothing short of miraculous, coming in as a fourth five-eighth with his confidence, so that creates depth but also pressure.

"It will be interesting how Dan reacts to that, you don't want him looking over his shoulder, you want him looking forward and trying improve his own game rather than being pressured by it.

"I'm sure he will, he's had a few challenges in his time."

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