Sportal.co.nz 21.Jul.2012Getty Images
The world's best first five-eighths of all time demonstrated his ability in the pressure games by opening up the defences for a crucial try to wing Zac Guildford and then landing a conversion, six penalty goals and a dropped goal for a 23-point haul. But he wasn't on his own.
Typically, it was the core of experience in the Crusaders side who set the example from Richie McCaw driving ahead with the ball in hand, lock Sam Whitelock sterling in his defence, prop Wyatt Crockett packing superbly in a controlled scrum and hooker Corey Flynn who was rock solid in defence.
Backing them was flanker Matt Todd who was consistently in support, with halfback Andy Ellis never far behind.
Carter's boot might have told the story on the scoreboard, but it was his generalship that created the vital first try in the game, and kept the pressure on the Bulls defences, especially in the Bulls 22m area.
The Bulls camped in the Crusaders 22m area around the 50-57th minutes with scrums, lineouts and tap penalties five metres from the line before the ball was turned over by the home side who cleared the ball 80m downfield. It summed up the Bulls night.
They had started the second half throwing the ball around with gay abandon, by their standards, but instead of opening up gaps, they merely intimidated the home defence who unleashed some stunning tackles.
The Bulls hampered their first quarter with uncharacteristic mistakes, two vital concessions at the first lineout where a long throw allowed Matt Todd to secure ball over the back and at a scrum where a penalty conceded allowed the Crusaders an early chance, unfulfilled, for an early assault on the line.
Worse still was the concession of penalties at rucks, silly mistakes, which allowed first five-eighths Dan Carter landed two penalty goals within the first 10 minutes.
Uncharacteristic mistakes by both Carter, a missed penalty attempt, and his rival Morne Steyn, who kicked a 22m re-start out on the full, and then a fluffed tactical kick on his own 22m line, hinted at some nervousness, moreso in Steyn's case.
But after taking a blow making a tackle, it was Steyn's tactical option which opened up a chance for the Crusaders. Carter crabbed across field sufficiently to suck in two defenders before he launched wing Zac Guildford into a gap big enough for him to race through for the first try after 25 minutes.
More continuity play from the Crusaders saw another sustained period of play in the Bulls 22m area and when a penalty advantage had been signalled, Carter settled the issue by landing a right-footed dropped goal.
Steyn finally had his first shot at goal in the 36th minute, one earlier possible chance being taken as a kick to the corner for a lineout drive, and was successful.
Impressive defensive work throughout the night from the loose forward Potgieter brothers Dewaldt and Jacques resulted in a 62nd minute try to Dewaldt while No.8 and captain Pierre Spies featured in some strong runs but the concession of penalties at the breakdown prevented the Bulls from being able to build scoring momentum.
If Carter was such a crucial cog for the home side, Steyn was disappointing for the Bulls, missing his touches from penalty kicks and unable to effect the running impact which marks Carter's game.
There was scant consolation for the Bulls with a 76th minute try to centre Waynand Olivier after some good work by fullback Zane Kirchner who was the pick of the Bulls backs to tidy ball to clear the way for Olivier to score.
Crusaders 28 (Zac Guildford tries; Dan Carter con, 6 pen, dropped goal ) Bulls 13 (Dewald Potgieter, Wynand Olivier tries; Morne Steyn pen ). HT: 16-3