Boots made for talking...

DANGEROUS: Stephen Larkham

DANGEROUS: Stephen Larkham

First published in Sport

NO. 10s set to dazzle

DAN CARTER, NEW ZEALAND

The complete fly-half who is head and shoulders above the competition, Carter's stunning displays against the Lions in 2005 really made the rugby world sit up and take notice.

Later that same year, at the age of 23, the Crusaders star was crowned International Rugby Board Player of the Year and he has continued to put distance between himself and his rivals.

Carter made his debut at inside centre in 2003 and, being deceptively strong with explosive pace, he continues to show his midfield qualities as a playmaker.

But it is as a tactician that he really excels, exuding calm authority under pressure and rarely taking the wrong option. The 25-year-old is also a master kicker.

RONAN O'GARA, IRELAND

Carter may be the undoubted number one, but there is plenty of competition for second place.

O'Gara just edges the chasing pack, although a slow start to the World Cup and he could easily find his position usurped.

The Munster fly-half has become a key player for Ireland - possibly their most irreplaceable given the lack of cover in his position.

O'Gara's prodigious boot has always served him well, but it is his attacking game that has seen the biggest improvement with the 30-year-old the catalyst that sets Ireland's dazzling backline in motion.

FELIPE CONTEPOMI, ARGENTINA

Argentina skipper Agustin Pichot claimed Contepomi is better than Carter and when the Pumas outside-half is firing, he may be right.

Contepomi is unstoppable on his day with a string of man-of-the-match displays sometimes single-handedly winning games for Bristol, Leinster or Argentina.

A star turn in Leinster's seismic 41-35 Heineken Cup quarter-final upset over Toulouse last year underlined his individual brilliance, and he is an ever-reliable goalkicker too.

STEPHEN LARKHAM, AUSTRALIA

Larkham, below left, has been campaigning for over a decade at Test level and there are few more dangerous playmakers.

The Brumbies back loves to stand flat and take the ball into the line, using soft handling skills to put his team-mates into gaps or opening holes for himself.

Few possess his vision or threat as an attacking kicker, but the 33-year-old - who is due to retire at the end of the World Cup - is not without his faults. His slight frame does not serve him well and he is worringly injury-prone.

JONNY WILKINSON, ENGLAND

English rugby owes Wilkinson an enormous debt of gratitude for his heroics in 2003 but, haunted by a staggering succession of injuries, it is doubtful whether he will scale those heights again.

Too many big hits may have taken their toll on the courageous Newcastle back whose calm under pressure, vision and kicking excellence placed him at the top of this list four years ago.

But it would be foolish to ever dismiss a competitor as fierce as Wilkinson and the stage is set for him to make a fairytale return.

JAMES HOOK, WALES

A man-of-the-match display in the first Test against Australia this summer has convinced many Hook needs to replace Stephen Jones sooner rather than later. Such a decision would be harsh on Jones, who had been installed as Wales' skipper before Gareth Thomas took over for the World Cup, but Hook's talent cannot be ignored.

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