To represent your nation at any sporting event is something worthy of recognition – but for rugby hopefuls hailing from New Zealand, the chance to pull on the iconic strip of the All Blacks is a challenge only the elite will ever overcome. Elites such as Dan Carter, widely regarded as one of the greatest fly halves to ever grace the game.
“It was always a dream of mine that first started in 1987 with the All Blacks World Cup winning side,” Carter, now 37, recalls. “I remember watching every single game in New Zealand and ever since then I wanted to be an All Black, but realistically I never really thought it would happen.
“So, when that dream became a reality in 2003, it was the best day of my life and I never wanted that feeling to stop. What I love about that journey is being able to inspire other people, the youth, to live their dreams. I think it’s a very important thing to dream big and just work hard to be able to live those dreams.”
Having seized the chance for his international debut at just 21 years of age, Carter went on to become the highest point-scorer in test match history. The Canterbury-native, therefore, has done more than most to carve his name into the history books alongside some of his home nation’s greatest sporting exports, even if he humbly admits: “I don’t play the game to make records.”
“It’s obviously very nice,” he smiles. “I’m extremely proud to reach certain milestones throughout my career, but I think it’s more something that I’ll look back when I finally hang up my boots and finish playing and look back on my career and be extremely proud of. You know, I was just lucky enough to play for some successful sides to give me the opportunity to score so many points.”
Carter’s club tenure spanned the globe, with the star recently having a return to France’s Racing 92 curtailed after a failed medical, following a mooted switch from Kobelco Steelers in Japan, with whom Carter has played since last season. Though his time with his native Crusaders and first stint with Racing (played out either side of a season with Perpignan) saw him win accolades at both a club and personal level – even becoming the highest-paid player in the world to boot – it is the 2015 New Zealand World Cup winning squad that ranks highest in Carter’s estimations.
“I don’t know whether it’s just the 2015 side, but it was the team the coaches brought together after the 2011 World Cup, so I think the success of 2015 almost started three years before that,” he nods. “We had some amazing years of undefeated seasons; to think we only lost three matches in four years was amazing.
“I think the 2015 side was a reflection of all the hard work in the years leading up to that World Cup. This team was all about creating history. No other nation had won back-to-back World Cups; no other All Blacks side had won a World Cup outside New Zealand, so to be able to achieve that was a pretty proud moment, and yes, it was a pretty special team and I was thankful I was able to be a part of it.”
For Carter especially, the 2015 victory holds huge importance. In 2009 he ruptured his Achilles tendon playing in France, costing him a club season and potentially derailing his astronomical rise in world rugby.
“Though not many people noticed, I was pretty close to retiring from the game,” he admits. “But through friends and family, coaches and team-mates, they gave me a lot of confidence to stick at it and give it one more crack.”
Post-World Cup, Carter finally ended his All Black dream alongside regular team-mate Richie McCaw – “He would put his body in some pretty dark places,” Carter says of his international captain. “And put his body on the line more than anyone that I’ve ever seen.”
The pair retired after a match in Christchurch in which Carter lived out another, albeit more jovial, onpitch aspiration.
“It was my last conversion and we were ahead by more than a try. Liam Messam ran on with the kicking tees and said, ‘Why don’t you kick it with your other foot?’. It brought back a conversation I had with Aaron Smith, our young half-back, before the tournament. He asked me if I had ever taken a conversion with the wrong foot? And I was like, ‘No, but I’d love to, because as a kid on the back yard, I used to kick with both feet’.
“And he goes, ‘Well, imagine if it was in the World Cup Final, and it’s the last kick of your international career. Imagine how good that would be?’. And then the moment came, so I thought why not, and kicked the conversion with my wrong foot. It was a great way to sign off my All Black career.”
With a move back to France now proving unlikely, Carter is at long last staring down the prospect of retirement – though no one can deny he has left everything out on the pitch over his decade-and-ahalf stint in rugby. Most sportsmen would be looking ahead to a welldeserved break, but there’s every chance that Carter’s career may take another turn, for the man who gave so much to the French game could soon be lending his talents across the Atlantic in the NFL.
“I went to visit the Patriots in 2013 and I just thought I was going to visit the facilities, but the scouts had obviously done their homework and worked out who I was,” he explains. “I’d kicked a few goals with a rugby ball, so they showed a bit of interest.
“It’s always been a bit of a joke of mine, being my retirement plan, hanging up my rugby boots and going to kick goals in American Football - I couldn’t think of anything better. Letting my body recoup, not having to make tackles or take the ball into contact any more would be quite nice… just being paid to kick goals!”