It says a lot for Dan Carter’s status in New Zealand that when the All Black flyhalf announced that his wife, Honor, is expecting their first child, the country’s Prime Minister was quick to publicly pass on his congratulations.
What John Key and all Kiwis recognise is that their record-breaking No 10 is a national treasure, not to mention the world’s all-time leading points scorer and – by common consent – the finest flyhalf in the history of Test rugby.
The 30-year-old is revered in his homeland and respected around the globe. He has been the poster-boy for the sport for several years, having long since reluctantly acquired the mantle which once sat uncomfortably on Jonny Wilkinson’s shoulders.
Carter is a figurehead for the game, but when he is abroad, in countries where rugby is not king, he is able to enjoy the rare delights of a lower profile. He can blend into a crowd, which is exactly what he did on Sunday. Just hours after arriving in London from Cardiff, he paid a visit to the O2 Arena to watch The Rolling Stones.
“It was awesome,” he said. “It was amazing. I was rocking out!”
Having relished the role of the excited fan, he is now in business mode, which spells trouble for England.
Carter missed the All Blacks’ victories over Italy and Wales while recovering from an injury to his Achilles-calf area, but expects to be fit for the tour-finale, Saturday’s international at Twickenham.
England coach Stuart Lancaster has enough on his plate without having to tackle the omens which Carter will bring to HQ.
Rewind to June 2003 and the fresh-faced prospect from rural Canterbury was an unused replacement as the England of Martin Johnson and Wilkinson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Phil Vickery and all came to Wellington and beat the All Blacks en route to World Cup glory.
Since then, since Carter has become a points machine, it has been Kiwi dominance all the way in this fixture. Nine games, nine New Zealand wins.
“I’m surprised England haven’t done more since 2003,” said Carter.
“They’ve shown the strength of their side only in patches since then. Maybe consistency is what’s been lacking. They’ve got the players, so talent’s not an issue.”
Since 2003, Carter’s star has risen rapidly while England’s fortunes have declined. Carter quickly asserted his credentials as a flyhalf with the full tool box – kicking precision and robust defence, mental fortitude and vision, quick hands and nimble feet.
He reached the bar which had been set by Wilkinson and soared past it, proving his claim to be the world’s leading playmaker against the British & Irish Lions in 2005.
That, and so many other performances of the highest class, have helped New Zealand regain their pre-eminence in the global game. Sadly, when they finally claimed their Holy Grail by winning a home World Cup last year, Carter missed the sharp end of the tournament through injury.
To see the Kiwi response to his demise at first hand was to understand his role as a focal point of so much hope and expectation.
Negative bulletins about Carter prompt nationwide panic. It is a small-scale version of the phenomenon in India, where public morale is intrinsically linked to the health and batting exploits of Sachin Tendulkar.
So when Carter revealed on Twitter that Honor, a former New Zealand hockey captain, is 21 weeks pregnant, the announcement made waves. He was typically bashful about all the fuss. After admitting to being “very excited”, he was asked if he hoped his child would be sporting. Stuttering for an appropriate answer, he eventually came up with: “Yeah ... reasonable genes there, so who knows!”
More comfortable territory was any talk of Saturday’s Test. While Carter diplomatically suggested England can “beat any team on their day”, it was somewhat more revealing when he described the hosts as “well-structured”. In direct opposition to him at Twickenham will be 21-year-old Owen Farrell of Saracens, who has eight caps to the Kiwi’s 93. It will be a classic case of master versus pupil.
This may be the last game in a gruelling season, but for the All Blacks and their icon, there can be no easing off now. Steve Hansen’s side have a 20-match unbeaten run to protect and Carter is adamant there is no danger of complacency despite their nine-year hold on this fixture. For his own part, the fire still burns.
“Every time you get to pull on the black jersey, you want to perform,” he said. “The drive is still there, which is important. The hunger and desire to play the best I can every week is still there, which is a good sign.”
It is a particularly bad sign for England. – Daily Mail