- Rugby is king in New Zealand and Dan Carter certainly wears the crown
- However, there is a glaring gap in the 33-year-old legends stellar c.v
- Carter has a century of Test caps and is leading all-time points scorer
- But Rugby World Cups have brought Carter nothing but trouble…
Chris Foy for the Daily Mail
Those arriving at Twickenham by train in the coming weeks will discover the billboards are not dominated by home heroes, but images of the Kiwi icon who has had his share of World Cup heartache.
The signs welcome visitors to the ‘Home of England Rugby’ but Dan Carter is the player who greets them. And the man widely regarded as the greatest fly-half in the sport’s history has a score to settle in his fourth and final appearance at rugby’s global showpiece.
There is a glaring gap in the 33-year-old’s stellar c.v. Carter now has a century of Test caps, and has long since surpassed Jonny Wilkinson as the leading all-time international points scorer. His tally stands at 1,516 in 106 appearances — 93 of them ending in victory. In New Zealand, where rugby is king, he has long worn the crown as the nation’s darling.
All Black legend Dan Carter is widely regarded as the greatest fly-half in the sport’s history
Carter feeels he has a score to settle in his fourth and final appearance at rugby’s global showpiece
But World Cups have brought him nothing but trouble and this one could have been the worst of all. Once Steve Hansen had named his squad to defend the title they won in 2011, it emerged that Carter was in grave danger of being omitted after an indifferent season, only to secure his inclusion with a vintage display against Australia in Auckland.
That reprieve meant so much because he has unfinished business. Speaking exclusively to Sportsmail in Auckland, Carter said: ‘You’d think that, this being my fourth World Cup, I might have had some personal success by now! Even with the team winning the last one, I wasn’t out there because I was injured. I haven’t had much personal joy at World Cups and signing a contract with the NZRU for four more years after 2011 was to give me the best chance to have a crack at one more World Cup.’
His groin injury during the pool stage of New Zealand’s home event prompted a mass outpouring of Kiwi grief. For Carter it was a shattering episode.
‘It was devastating,’ he said. ‘I had been vice-captain for a couple of years but I’d never captained the All Blacks. Richie (McCaw) pulled out of the game against Canada quite late and I was named captain for the first time.
‘I’d just finished doing my press conference and we shot off to the captain’s run training session — the last session of the week. It was just a gentle run-out. I have kicked thousands of balls in my career and at the end of training I was only having four kicks and when I took the very last one the impact produced this awful pain in my groin.
New Zealand All Blacks (L-R) Carter, Liam Messam and Sonny Bill Williams pose at the Tower of London
Carter poses for a selfie with a fan during the welcome ceremony at the Tower of London on Friday
Carter goes on the attack during an international Test Match against America at Soldier Field
‘I knew it was serious. I just dropped to the ground and I was in agonising pain. A lot of people thought I was just winding (former All Blacks coach) Graham Henry up but I knew it was serious straight away. You always have hope that it’s not too bad but when I had scans later on that night I realised I had ruptured my adductor so my tournament was over.’
Coping with the setback was a huge challenge. ‘It was pretty hard to take in,’ he said. ‘When I was around the team I put on a really brave face and tried to be supportive. With Colin Slade and a few guys getting injured after me, I had to help out the first-fives (fly-halves). But I would go back to my hotel room and be thinking all sorts.
‘I was constantly asking, ‘Why?’. I was thinking, ‘Why me? Why now? Why such a serious injury?’. I often think all things happen for a reason but I couldn’t think of one for that.’
Carter has long since surpassed Jonny Wilkinson as leading all-time international points scorer
In reference to the reaction in New Zealand, he added: ‘I kind of removed myself from all that. But the next week I did a press conference and some of the questions I was getting…I almost felt like I needed the country to move on and start supporting the other guys.
‘I was thinking, ‘One player is not going to make a difference in a team sport like this, we have structures in place so if anyone falls over you just deal with it and the team were’. So I had moved on pretty quickly and I just needed the rest of the country to move on as well.’
One of the worst aspects of the injury was that it deprived Carter of the chance to enact the scenario he had spent his life preparing for.
All Blacks legend Carter poses for a selfie with a rugby fan as New Zealand prepare for World Cup opener
Stephen Donald — the fourth-choice No 10 — kicked the decisive penalty in the final against France and the man who should have had that shot wished it had been him. ‘I would have loved it,’ said Carter. ‘The amount of times as a young boy in the backyard I pretended to be taking the kick to win a World Cup — it would have been great. But what happened, happened and you just have to deal with what adversity life throws at you.’
There had been adversity in his previous World Cups, too. In 2007, Carter was injured in the quarter-final against France in Cardiff and had to watch as the All Blacks imploded in his absence.
Four years earlier, it had been less raw for the rookie when New Zealand were beaten by Australia in a semi-final in Sydney.
‘It was my first year of professional rugby so I was young and taking it all in,’ he said. ‘It didn’t really mean as much to me then as the last two World Cups.
Carter admits he wants to try and help New Zealand win back-to-back World Cups in England this summer
‘But after we got knocked out, I saw how much it meant to some of the senior members of the team and that’s when it really hit me — how much World Cups mean to players and how rare they are. I started thinking straight away that I wanted to be involved in 2007 and as many tournaments as possible.’
Now, he has his last shot. ‘There is huge motivation for me,’ he said. ‘I just want to try to do something that no team have done before by winning back-to-back World Cups. Just to be part of that has really been driving me.
‘I want to enjoy it as well. Tournaments can be quite serious, quite intimidating, quite hostile, so the fact that I finish playing New Zealand rugby after this World Cup, I just want to go out there, have fun and be part of something special.’
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