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Rugby | Castle Rugby Championship

Carter a doubt as NZ face tough finish



Flyhalf Dan Carter's calf strain is still causing him problems but he will be given until the last minute to prove his fitness before New Zealand embark on a two-game road trip to conclude the Rugby Championship.

While four wins out of four have put the world champions on the verge of clinching the title in the inaugural version of the southern hemisphere competition, they have a tough finish to the championship.

They play Argentina in La Plata on September 29 and South Africa in Johannesburg on October 6 and coach Steve Hansentold reporters that Carter, who missed the All Blacks' previous two matches with the injury, was still causing some concern.

"No he's not running full noise yet. The medical staff think he will be (okay), but we'll have to wait and see," Hansen told Fairfax Media in Dunedin on Sunday.

"We'll probably make a decision late in the week, probably Friday."

Carter's calm reassurance was sorely missed in atrocious conditions against the Pumas last week, though his understudy Aaron Cruden grew into the game at Wellington Regional Stadium and looked more composed directing the team against the Springboks in Dunedin on Saturday.

"The two young guys (Cruden and scrumhalf Aaron Smith) drove us around the park quite well in the second half," Hansen said after the All Blacks snuck to a 21-11 victory over South Africa.

"They're continuing to grow and get experience and that experience will do us well in the future."

The All Blacks have won 14 successive tests and have had to do so largely without Carter, who has played just six of the matches due to injuries.

The youthful exuberance and growing experience of Cruden and Smith will be needed on their road trip.

While the All Blacks are undefeated in their 15 tests against Argentina, winning 14 tests and drawing one, the Pumas are much tougher to beat at home than on the road.

The All Blacks' only blemish on their perfect record was the 21-21 draw in Buenos Aires in 1985, while on their last two trips to South America they have had to grind out tough wins, 25-19 in 2006 and 24-20 in 2001.

The Pumas also drew with South Africa in Mendoza last month and will be fuming they let a rare away victory slip through their grasp on Saturday when they led Australia 19-6 in the second half only for the Wallabies to fight back and win 23-19.

Once they leave Argentina the All Blacks head to Johannesburg, where they will play the Springboks at the Soccer City stadium in Soweto and are likely to face the same physical encounter they came up against in Dunedin on Saturday.

The All Blacks were lucky to win the match at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, with the normally reliable Springboks' goalkickers missing six shots at goal.

While their tactics under new coach Heyneke Meyer are one dimensional, they can nonetheless be effective and the Springboks are unlikely to let victory over the world champions slip from their grasp twice in one season.

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