By Graham Thomas
Gareth Anscombe has revealed he would love to emulate Dan Carter and be playing rugby past his 38th birthday.
But for the time being the Wales fly-half is just enjoying rugby’s return in his New Zealand homeland this weekend as he continues his battle back from injury.
Anscombe has not played since injuring his knee in a warm-up match against England before last year’s World Cup, but his spirits have been lifted by the resumption of the sport in the only rugby-playing nation now free of coronavirus.
The good news for Welsh fans is that both the Highlanders against the Chiefs, and Sunday’s Blues v Hurricanes match, will be shown by S4C in a new extended highlights programme, Clwb Rygbi: Super Rugby Aotearoa on Sunday evening. It’s then repeated at 6.00pm on Monday.
All Blacks legend Carter will not figure for the Blues this weekend as he continues to regain full fitness following a spell playing in Japan.
But the veteran fly-half will soon be available to resume his career with his new team and Anscombe, 29, is full of admiration for his fellow No.10.
“I would love to still be playing at 38 years of age,” says Anscombe, whose creativity and tactical acumen played a key role in Wales’ Grand Slam campaign of 2019.
“We’re not too sure when I’ll be back yet. I think at the moment that’s another conversation for another day.
“But, like Carter, I’ve had some big injuries along the way, and hopefully I have bought myself a bit of extra time on the other side of those.
“There was lots of talk about him retiring after the Japan season was over. But he has always been an ultimate professional and has clearly looked after his body well along the way.
“He’s had some big injuries in the past, which has probably bought him a bit of time off the field, so why not carry on?
“Professional rugby is evolving and adapting. The rules are being slightly tweaked and I think that although the athletes are getting bigger and stronger, these are people who have only ever known professional rugby.
“They are now coming out of school systems, which are very professional themselves, and then into academies. From a young age now, players are doing weights and they’ve got personal trainers.
“They learn quickly how to upskill themselves, how to eat well, how to rest and recover.
“So, I think we might see guys who were retiring at 32, now conditioned enough to go on to 37 or 38, or maybe even 40.”
Anscombe – who left the Cardiff Blues to join the Ospreys at the start of this season – grew up in Auckland and believes Carter will still have a huge impact on the city and its rugby team, despite the advancing years.
It may not happen in the opening couple of weeks of the new domestic-only competition, but former Blues and Chiefs star Anscombe believes the Blues will soon benefit from the qualities they have been badly lacking in over recent years, but which weigh heavy in their 112-cap newcomer.
“Carter still lives in Auckland with his family and even when he was playing for the Crusaders he was still mainly living in Auckland in the years I was playing in New Zealand.
“When you have a man of that caliber and experience, then you’d be silly not to try and tap into that.
“He may not play for a little bit, but just his experience and his aura will be important for the Blues.
“They’ve probably lacked leaders and leadership for the past five or so years, but now they’ve got one of the best players in the world they are certainly not going to lack that anymore.
“I’m an Auckland boy, born and bred, even though I went on to play for the Chiefs. The Blues just seemed to lose a little bit of what they were all about.
“They have always had to compete with other sports in that area – such as rugby league and basketball. It’s such a wide, diverse culture in Auckland, with such a different mix of races and people, that rugby, perhaps, lost its importance a little to some of the people who lived there.
“They have the biggest stadium in New Zealand, but when you have only 2,000 people in there when they weren’t being successful, then it was hard to create any atmosphere.
“But you like to think now – with what has gone on in the world and with getting some big names there – then would get major support again. If they don’t get a big crowd now, then you wonder if it will ever happen again.
“But from a New Zealand perspective, seeing a competition with all their best players in it – but just featuring New Zealand teams – is what they have been craving for a long, long time.”
If Carter does return and come through the season unscathed, the Anscombe reckons he could go on to join the small ranks of those who played top level rugby into their fifth decade.
“One or two of these freaks have already got up to 40 – guys likes Brad Thorne and Taufaʻao Filise who I played with at the Cardiff Blues.
“You’d like to think that guys like Carter can play to 40. Certainly, the medicinal support and science is there now.
“It would be great to see him still playing at 40. The greatest challenge might be the mental one. Mentally, it can be very challenging to keep going back to the well.
“You have to give New Zealand rugby credit, though. They have a very flexible attitude to their players – giving them time off – and they have always been able to adapt and evolve.
“They are willing to think outside the box with guys like Dan and Richie McCaw, to keep them content and motivated, and that’s why they able to play for the All Blacks for 12 or 14 years. We may see more doing that.”
S4C – SUNDAY 14 JUNE
22.00 CLWB RYGBI: SUPER RUGBY AOTEAROA (S) (EC)
Watch again at 18.00 on Monday 15 June.