Dan Carter: Why Dan's desperate for more with New Zealand
All Black outside-half hopes to be fit to face England on Saturday, when he and his side will continue their relentless quest to be bigger, better and stronger than the team that won the World Cup, he tells Chris Hewett
Daniel Carter is the finest outside-half of his generation by a distance best measured in light years, so he is perfectly entitled to be thinking in generational terms as another vintage All Black year draws to a close. On Sunday night, he fulfilled a long-held ambition by watching the whiskery sextuagenarians of the Rolling Stones rattle their bones around a London stage. A few hours later, he revealed to an ever-adoring New Zealand nation that his wife, the hockey international Honor, would give birth to their first child in four months' time.
Who knows? He might even bag himself a game of rugby this weekend, as a reminder that he is still in the prime of his sporting life – a life that has given him almost as much as he has given to those privileged to watch him play, which is saying an awful lot. As things stand, his chances of facing England at Twickenham on Saturday are no greater than 60-40, but he passed all the tests set him at yesterday's training session in London and if he successfully negotiates a more vigorous run-out tomorrow, he will at least start the match.
"I even did a little goal-kicking, just to build up my confidence," said the 30-year-old accumulator of a record-splattering 1,381 Test points – a midfielder whose formidable powers of self-possession and self-assurance have been at the heart of the All Black story since his first appearance in the silver-ferned shirt back in 2003. Might he have been extracting the you-know-what with that comment, by any chance? Not a bit of it. Carter has no use for sarcasm or smart-arsery or the spinning of yarns. If he is required to talk about himself in public – and given the choice, he would rather not – he is unfailingly polite and deadly serious.
Carter gave the lower part of his right leg – the one he uses for standing on rather than kicking – a nasty tweak while training on a muddy field at the University of Glamorgan last week and missed the victory over Wales as a consequence. It was not his first bout of orthopaedic hassle in recent seasons: his 2009 sabbatical with the French club Perpignan, who had hired him for a snip at £35,000 a game, was only a month old when he ruptured his left Achilles tendon, and if that was hard to take, the groin injury that ruled him out of the business end of last year's World Cup in his home country was worse again, to the power of plenty. Having lost their crutch because he was hobbling around on crutches of his own, the All Blacks very nearly lost the title into the bargain.
Perhaps this is why he refuses to talk, or even think, about playing at the next global gathering, in England in a little under three years' time. "It's just too far down the track," he said yesterday at the All Blacks' hotel in Kensington. "After what's happened to me injury-wise, I want to concentrate on getting to the end of this season before sitting down and setting any more long-term goals. The drive is there, and that's the important thing: I still have that desire to play the best I can each week. But the main thing for me is to focus on the here and now."
Which means England. The small-town boy from the rugby heartland south-west of Christchurch had just broken into the All Blacks' match-day squad when Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Jonny Wilkinson and the rest fought their famous rearguard action in Wellington and left the New Zealand capital with a precious victory, a few short weeks before the triumphant 2003 World Cup campaign. The red rose has not prevailed over the silver fern since, but Carter's rugby antennae are more sensitive to that defeat nine years ago than to any of the victories since.
"England were in their prime then: they took it to us in our home surroundings, where we take great pride in not losing, and they taught us a lesson," he acknowledged. So what happened to them? Why, given their vast playing strength and financial muscle, are they not up there with the All Blacks in the top two of the rankings, all of the time? "I can't speak for them," he replied, cagily. "They show their strength, but only in patches. Talent isn't an issue for them, because they can beat any side on their day. Maybe it's the consistency that's missing."
Right: let's try a different approach. What is it that makes the All Blacks so fiendishly difficult to beat, wherever or whenever they play – south or north of the equator, come rain or shine, at the start of a long season or at the fag end of it? "Every time you pull on the jersey, it's a chance to add to the legacy," he responded, warming to his theme at last. "We thrive on the pressure, on the expectation – we absolutely love it. If you have that motivation every week, you'll always win more than you lose.
"One of the big things for us was being a bigger, stronger, more successful side this year precisely because we won the World Cup last year. History shows us that most teams have a pretty average season after winning a world title, but we have a lot of self-belief in the group and we knew we wanted to move things on. I haven't felt any lessening of the pressure, just because of what happened in 2011."
As with all the great silver-ferners, there is no let-up with Carter. Ninety-three Tests into a great career, he is both as hungry as he ever was and better than he ever was. And there is more to come, with that kid of his on the way. Boy or girl, there will be more than a trace of sporting talent in the DNA. "There are some reasonable genes there, I suppose," he said. Even then, he managed to avoid sounding smug.
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