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Barry John: Dan Carter a man for every era

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Lynn McConnell     08 Nov 2015     Getty Images

The former Welsh and British and Irish Lions star who cast such an influence over the 1971 Lions tour of New Zealand said Carter was 'easily the best natural rugby footballer on the planet.

John told Walesonline.co.uk that it would be a great honour to just be mentioned in the same category as Carter who had proven such a special sportsman over the past decade.

"It's very difficult to compare eras. What I would say is that he is undoubtedly the greatest since the sport turned professional in 1995 and that fly-half play today is completely different to the Jurassic era of yesteryear," he said.

John said he was often asked if he would like to be playing today and said he would with the attractions of playing in World Cups and receiving rewards for playing.

"But whether I would actually enjoy it as much as I did in the 1960s and 70s is another matter.

"This is most certainly not a case of 'it was better in our day', or anything like that. Times change, today it's about big men running at you and I'm not sure Benny [fellow Welsh five-eighths Phil Bennett] and myself would have adapted.

"Carter on the other hand, undoubtedly possesses the skill-set which would have enabled him to go back in time and stand out as a player of the past.

"In other words, he is a man for every era. I love the way he takes on his opposite number, drops a shoulder, dinks out a pass, creates space for his team-mates. We see so little of that in modern rugby when it is by and large, crash, bang, wallop," John said.

With possession and position being so important Carter was perfect at getting his forwards on the front foot.

But what stood out in Carter was the awareness and vision he had to exploit a gap to take advantage of sudden chinks in the opposition defensive armour.

"Carter will go left, he'll go right, put in a deft chip kick. His selection of what particular play to make always seems to be the correct one, but he also has the knack of executing that play to perfection. Those are terrific qualities to have," John said.

Like top players in any sport Carter looked to do things easily because of the time he had to dictate proceedings.

"Seeing Carter strut around that hugely impressive New Zealand pack is like watching at artist at work at his easel. So easy on the eye, so much to marvel at.

"Look at his dropped goal in the World Cup final. Effortless, unexpected, decisive, easing New Zealand back into a seven-point lead just when it seemed Australia were starting to force their way back into the match.

"There was no sudden foot movement, no backlift…yet the ball flew straight through the middle of the posts. It was like a conductor taking over the stage, calming nerves. Clarity of mind and intent," he said.

John admitted that tackling was alien to him and he wondered why players so valuable as top first five-eighths like Carter, Jonny Wilkinson and Jonny Sexton had to be so good defensively. Teams should be reorganising themselves to reduce the vulnerability of their key players, which the first five-eighths were.

"Whatever, it does seem the modern way and to his credit Carter has dealt with everything that has been thrown his way, defence and offence. Handled it with aplomb," he said.

While others would have their own opinions on the best player in history, John said Carter had bowed out of Test rugby with a swagger.

"He had the last kick of the World Cup, the last kick of his international career. He took it with his right foot…and it sailed straight through the middle of the posts.

"That's what you call style," he said.