Dan Carter described his top-level return to top-class rugby after injury yesterday as "awesome" after scoring 14 points for Canterbury before being substituted in the 65th minute in their 22-19 defeat to North Harbour in Albany. The New Zealand fly-half, 27, had been sidelined for the past six months after rupturing an Achilles tendon while playing club rugby in France, though he made a low-key return to the field in a suburban club game in Christchurch last weekend.
"I really enjoyed it out there, tough conditions, but just to be back playing his awesome," said Carter. "You can do all the rehab but there is nothing better than being out there playing again." Carter appeared to be playing well within himself for the majority of the national provincial match and adopted a conservative approach, content to distribute to his outside backs and kicking for territory. He added: "I'm not too far away [in terms of being able to play at full speed], I am happy enough to be out there and am confident."
Carter is unlikely to be rushed back into the All Blacks side for the Tri Nations, but team officials have hinted he could be chosen for the end of season tour to Japan and Europe, though Carter said he did not want to get too far ahead of himself. "They [the All Blacks selectors] are just looking forward to me getting back and playing for Canterbury," he said. Jonny Wilkinson was rested as his new side Toulon beat Racing Metro 33-19 in a pre-season friendly at the Stade Mayol.
The England fly-half made his debut for the southern French club last Friday, playing the first half and scoring six points in their 9-3 win over Brive. Toulon confirmed that Wilkinson, 30, who has been included in England's 32-man elite player squad for the forthcoming campaign, was rested and was not left out because of injury. * With agencies